I have long been an ardent admirer of Zen Buddhism, but it is hard for me to see in what respect it is “Buddhist” at all, as it departs so fundamentally in both theory and practice from the Indian Buddhism of the Pali Canon. Its focus is on the use of sitting meditation to directly and immediately experience enlightenment, or satori, through a form of non-discursive insight. Through this, the individual is said to immediately understand the equality of all events, and this comes about through the repudiation of discursive thinking, dualistic paradigms of thought, and ego-based thinking and behavior. In contrast to this, the Zen Buddhist advocates a holistic and non-dualistic perspective that is immediately grasped practically through meditation. This sheds light onto the nature of the true self, and allows the individual to understand his own Buddha-nature in the simplicity of the here and now.
Similar to the Chinese Buddhism which preceded it and influenced its rise, Zen Buddhism emphasizes understanding reality in terms of the relations of its parts rather than in terms of the sum total of its atomistic components. Ultimately, the purpose of Zen Buddhism transcends either dualism or non-dualism, and repudiates linguistic summary of its philosophy, and so it rejects both the doctrines of not-two as well as not-one.
There are two fundamental meditation methods used in Zen Buddhism: observation of breath count (susokukan) and “just sitting” (shikantaza). The Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism employs the former, in addition to its deliberately paradoxical “koans,” whose purpose is to jolt the hearer awake to Enlightenment, while Dogen’s Soto Zen tradition employs shikantaza, which avoids eradication of all discursive thought in an effort to arrive at the state of Enlightenment previously described. Like the Chan Buddhist tradition, and the Daoist tradition that influenced it, emphasis within the Rinazi school is on self-cultivation through pointing directly to the human mind in a way that is not dependent on discursive reasoning, but may use paradoxically articulated discursive reasoning to reach the state. The meditation theory of the Soto school teaches gradual enlightenment, which sees the process of discovery as one that is ever-deepening after becoming aware of the original enlightenment. The Rinzai School, however, teaches sudden enlightenment in which the individual is jolted awake at a moment’s instant.
Zen Buddhism follows a three-step procedure of adjustment of the body, breath and mind. Adjustment of the body involves proper diet, exercise and nurturing of the body. Meditation posture is either lotus or half-lotus. Adjustment of the breath involves counting inhalations and exhalation, beginning with breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth a few times. Breath count is performed through abdominal breathing in which one brings air all the way down into the lower abdomen and breathes out from it. Finally, the practitioner adjusts his mind by disconnecting from the concerns of daily life and attempts to still the distracted “monkey mind” through posture and counting of the breaths. The latter breathing exercise is similar to anapanasati, except in the latter, there is no counting, except where recommended for novices by writers in the post-commentarial Theravada tradition. Gradually, the individual enters a state of samadhi that is similar to what is described in the Theravada tradition, which is understood as an immediate and non-discursive awareness of “no-thing” through a “no-mind,” that is, an ego-less state of understanding the true self and of the nature of reality.