Nothing comprises existence beyond sensory inputs -- unclassified, unmarked, indiscriminate variations and patterns. Yet how we grasp at something higher, believing there must be something more, but unable to put our finger on just what it is…
The mind is the grasper, yet what it grasps is merely the roots of its own creation. This reality wherein there is nothing to learn nor know, it hides from itself. That one could be the searcher and the searched for is only accomplished through ignorance alone -- an ignorance in which the grasper is complicit. For we desire to be ignorant. We desire to hide from ourselves the truth that all without is in fact within.
The mind needs function, meaning, and purpose. This is its essential aim. Tools, fire, hunting, and onwards to the iPhones and electricity of today -- everything is pursued with an intention and purpose in mind. Working towards ends only imagined but never realized, the mind is a builder. It appropriates the sensations it receives -- that is to say it converts sight, sound, or touch into something appropriate for use in construction.
Action exists without meaning, yet the mind refuses to accept this. Behind every action is an impulse, and drive. The quest for food to sate hunger, and the pursuit of sex to release aggression are but two examples. Such actions the body demands -- but what of the mind, whose abstractions create desires insatiable by physical reality?
Towards these ends the mind must create its own reasoning and purpose, things beyond those which is so clearly felt by the body…
and yet it must also believe its own machinations to constitute genuine motivations.
This it does by never questioning, and simply accepting it to be so. The preference of an ignorant state may seem unlikely to you, but it provides to humanity a great benefit, which is to be free of the soulless, black void of nothingness.
You see, the mind, absent any immediate problem to solve, must create the impetus for its own existence. It wants to work, mechanically, constructing theories and ideas, but to do so requires inventing the cause for this action. It cannot work on fumes; it cannot build on vapors; it cannot make something of nothing.
And it must build: it is voracious in this activity.
These roots, these groundworks from which all thought and action grows, these most fundamental assumptions we take to be true in order to act, to live, and to know what cannot be known -- here is the domain of the spiritual. To sate the churning mind, to stop the question of “why,” at the largest level, to allow us to continue to pursue our single-minded desires and passions free from haziness and uncertainty.
It is enormously empowering; it is severely limiting.
To create this “something” from nothing is to trap ourselves to the endless imagination -- one wonders whether this situation is oxymoronic. To become slave to freedom.
And yet one must wonder if this situation is not preferable to the void, where the scope of freedom has expanded and stretched beyond meaning, where terms like slavery and free will explode into insignificance.
In this horrid, enchanting stillness we become dead, yet wonder whether we were alive in life anyways.
You exist only because nature allowed it.
There is no soul, nor divine image from which you were made. There is no greater reason for your presence, but that you are an expedient for your own survival, and by extension that of the human race.
But to this perhaps disheartening message I will return at the end.
Natural selection, remember, is no selection at all. You’d do much better to think of it as a lack of any selection whatsoever. That is, a level playing field. For when no packet of matter -- what may be called an organism -- is overtly selected in favor of or against, simply those that survive, thrive, and reproduce will exist, by virtue of their ability to bring more self-similar matter into existence. Those that do not will perish, and they will prove to be adept at not existing.
Quite literally, those objects of matter that are best at bringing more of themselves into existence,
will exist, and continue on.
So reader: drop all these questions of “who am I?” Or “what is my purpose?”
For science has solved the debate. What you are, is a packet of matter designed to exist. Honed by millions of years of trial and error and constantly adapting to new environments, you represent the intelligence of life itself. Quite literally, that pattern of matter that can and will survive, exist, and go on. Everything you are is fashioned towards this end; it cannot be any other way, for any part of you designed to help you “not exist” could lead only to your demise.
Now the question can be asked: how much of you is yours?
In your body is incredible intelligence. Absolutely and positively unfathomable to you. Every cell constantly operating, dividing, replicating, healing, organizing into structures like bone, organs, and muscle, all firing in precisely the ways needed to keep you alive.
Their enormous complexity notwithstanding, these elements all make perfect sense for achieving survival.
The only real mystery here is you.
Why, exactly, are you needed? Surely the body could go on surviving on its own, like a robot? Observe the plants, fungi, and insects. Are “they” in there?
I am speaking, of course, of self-awareness, for all these sensations of the “I,” all these delineations between the world and between you in particular are what define “you.”
Why is that whole mess needed? The fact is the vast majority of your survival, the processes of the body and many of the mind, takes place completely outside of you and your awareness. No control is necessary, nobody needed to observe and react.
Imagine a simulation with artificial intelligence. Imagine robots replicating, programmed to survive:
“When variable ‘energy level’ drops below x, acquire class ‘food.’”
It seems it could work, no? Even without a “driver” or “subject” or “you” there? This, I might say, is the true question of existence.
This is the true mystery of ourselves.
Not our purpose or identity, but why we are needed for our purpose at all.
I do not seek resolution here towards that question, but only to make two points. It is clear that you, as a self-sensing, self-conscious being, must serve some purpose towards achieving your own existence.
What that purpose is, or what advantages it holds over your non-being remain less than clear.
For now though, find comfort, if you can, in your necessary importance to your own survival. You may have depression, you may feel worthless, you may be happy, you might feel hopeful.
Up or down, it is all working to your benefit.
Ride that wave, brother.
Human intelligence is by its nature a force of destruction.
Where there is no intelligence, there is life. This we observe to be blossoming, growth, development, and progress. See how it goes: flowers sprout from falling rain, animals chase each other and compete for survival, natural evolution puts new forms to try their hand in the game -- in these vignettes we see life.
We recognize purity and single-minded focus.
This purity is the essence of creation. For what we humans do not understand: creation is the natural state of reality. Left to themselves, organisms do nothing but create. Their existence and creation are inseparable. Every action is creation and life. Creation and inspiration is incarnate -- the breath of life flows through all forms to organize matter at its whim.
Overflowing creation and nobody is there to do it. This we observe.
And yet there is the writer at his desk, or the sculptor in his shop, or the engineer with his tools. They are stuck, deep in a search for creative impulse, leaning on their intelligence.
Yet they are just like stupid animals that spend hours attempting to swim upstream, constantly becoming discouraged when they look to the bank and see they have gone nowhere. The artisans, engineers, and dumb animals all three, only when they become tired and have no more energy to swim, find they begin to move effortlessly through none of their own doing.
Here we can see the value of our impulses, of our thoughts, of our desires -- they exist to busy us, and when they burn themselves out we go on creating, moving and living.
This we can say most generally: life is lived when no one is there to live it.
It is a great credit to our durability and adaptability that we humans have spread to every corner of earth, to survive in every environment and ecosystem. Surely the key to our success has been our ability to endure pain and destruction of predators and environment, but the key force of destruction we have evolved to tolerate is that destructive force of our own mind. This force we call intelligence, and is the antithesis of life, yet we have been born to tolerate it. Just as we break the body down to make it stronger, so do we break down the mind and strengthen it in exercising our intelligence.
The fact is, scientific research has concluded that our brains consume one fifth of the total calories we consume per day -- so high is the energy needed to combat the destruction that our intelligence creates for us.
Intelligence creates and does nothing.
Rather it cuts, divides, slices, analyzes. It imposes order on chaos, clipping off deviations like a mower removing overgrown grass. It creates rules that conflict with reality, leading us to attack and destroy.
But left out of the equation is the indisputable fact that reality cannot be destroyed. When we try to destroy it, we can do nothing but destroy ourselves.
Here now is the great perversion of our society in its implications for our well-being: It is precisely creation which we call destruction. It is precisely destruction which we call creation.
I regret to say that if that is not a recipe for calamity, I sincerely do not know what is.
In this life, things tend to come and go.
Money is won and lost to the tune of the frenetic marketplace. Fame and laud turn into villainization for nothing more than speaking an unfortunate phrase or making an inopportune decision. We live life on the edge, every day inches or seconds from death, loss, and poverty.
You’d do well to consider this precarious perspective every now and again.
Harrowing as it may be, it reminds us that fear is a part of our existence here.
This is a good thing to know.
Fact is, fear is probably our most useful tool. Most of the time it’s not love or hope or kindness that keeps the world going ‘round -- these are just things that help us get through the day a little more comfortably. But if you want to understand a truly compelling force, one which has driven us and every one of our ancestors going back past the monkeys and the dinosaurs, all the way back to the beginning of life to survive, to create, to destroy, and to live…
...have a look at this gift of fear.
It is a shame we hide under more appealing states of mind as warmth and benevolency, because we miss the man behind the curtain, and we do not understand the reality that has been given to us.
For worry not of misfortune, but understand its reality and you will gain control over it. Remember always that all the excitement of life comes right along with death’s knock at the door -- for life and death are merely two sides of the coin -- which is to say two perspectives -- of change (a perspective, of course, having its essence in the way something is merely viewed, but not in its objective reality).
Who benefits from the change is but a matter of perspective.
Just as I tell you to be aware of fear, so should you be aware that fear only comes from losing something you love. Therefore place your awareness on the whole coin, the whole change, and do not lose your mind to the bad nor the good.
Let meditation upon fragility give you the strength to accept its reality; let your lost sense of security and comfort bring you a fervor to go for life’s marrow, to “live deliberately” as Henry David Thoreau once wrote with such clarity and purpose.
In this meditation, I think you will begin a very important change, which begins as a discovery -- that your experience has a true center, something permanent and life-giving, and that center is you. Things -- objects -- come and go. Let things be things, and let them go along their way, and you will be one step closer to understanding the true nature of what you have left when all things are taken from you.
This is the key.
What is left (for what is left, is what is right).
When all the chips are down, when all the good times gone, the flowing wells dried up, the memory fading and success abating -- who is still there? Make peace with that man, and you will never want; shun him and you prepare yourself for terror.
You have objects of your attention, objects of your affection, objects of your interest… how much of your life have you wasted upon objects, chasing the rabbit’s tail? These are mere games you play, for anything you acquire which can be gained or lost at the drop of a hat surely is hardly even worth pursuing. Let those things come and go as they will, but find that when they all drop away, what is left is you.
You is where you must focus.
You is what you must study.
You is where you must place your love.
You is the most precious and eternal gift you have.
So then: who are you?
Let all these words I’ve said, like breadcrumbs, lead you to the treasure that lies at the end of this journey. There, all good things will come.
One who knows zen knows there is no zen — and yet we write it, read it, think at it.
A paradox, yet one who knows zen knows there is no paradox.
I want you to picture a mirror. See if you can grasp its essence. Does it have a color? A texture? A material?
The idea of a mirror's true visible nature slips through our mind as water through grasping fingers.
Yet here, in this confusion, we can begin to understand zen; it presents a mirror which we can use to look inside ourselves.
Zen is that which reflects the object. The mirror is not the reflection, and yet there is no mirror without the reflection. Paradoxical.
To study the nature of reflection is to understand zen.
Let me guide you to a start.
Form in your mind an example: an apple, and its reflection.
The reflection is not real, is not substantial — and by this I mean to say it is dependent — for it is indeed real in that it can be sensed, but the sensations of the reflection are dependent on a more substantial form of the actual apple. If the apple moves so moves the reflection. If the apple rots so the reflection. If the apple is eaten, so goes the reflection.
The object and reflection: always the same, and yet unequal.
Those things that bring change are done to the apple and never the reflection; the reflection merely mimics accordingly.
This is the nature of zen, which is the mirror.
Ponder the nature of a reflection and see that it is duplication — no new information is given — existing realities are simply doubled. There is no life there, there is no novelty, and no inspiration, no creativity and nothing new added. Mere mimicry.
This is how zen works.
It gives you nothing new. You have never learned a lick from practicing zen, you have only seen what was already there. You have gained nothing new; only discovered that nothing new ever existed for you.
Return to the mirror: yet that mirror is not the object it reflects, but presents an alternate perspective of it. A mirror may copy and repeat, and yet a reflection is not a thing. It is a thing seen differently, seen backwards, seen from the other side, seen in a different location.
If there was not something new about a reflection, it would not exist. If a reflection was equivalent to the object it reflected in every way, it would be that very object. But a reflection is different in its perspective.
Here, there is something new and something real, and in this newness is where zen, analogously, is something and not nothing -- where it does exist. For we cannot truly say “there is no zen,” because we forget that there is yet something we call “zen” that does exist.
This existence, this something, is the reflection, which is the change in perspective.
Now to finish here, let me just hint at the significance of this reflective essence.
Imagine the quandary of a “sensor” trying to sense itself. If one senses, by definition it senses things that are not the sensor. And yet that tool exists, the mirror, which objectifies the sensor, which creates new perspective so as to transform the sensor into a copy outside of itself that it may be inspected indirectly as it were any other object.
Zen presents no paradox.
There is you and your reflection.
Zen both does and does not exist, depending on what you’re meaning to look for.
Understand first that you look into a mirror and your reflection will become clear to you.