Monday, December 5, 2011

No Path

Yesterday a student suggested that Zen might be a path towards a "coma-like state". This was an interesting observation - and considering the way Zen can be used, perhaps in some cases his description was right!

This got me thinking about the Heart Sutra and why, for me, it is more liberation than lobotomy. I came upon the term, "No path." Zen is about living in the present moment. If you are walking "No path" then every step of the way you are expressing a preference. Forwards? Backwards? Sideways? Stop? With no path to follow, you choose.

The rest of Zen is just a support mechanism for ensuring that every step of the way we really do express a preference, and not just get jerked around by cravings.


  1. Hi Michael,

    I think your student is looking at Zen very externally. In zazen we probably look like a hunting dog pointing toward the pheasant. Frozen, the dog looks like a statue (or a dog in a “coma-like state”) but the dog is actually sharply focused and aware of things beyond the hunter’s perception.

    As for your model of “no path” I couldn’t agree more, the path of no path is the path of freedom. We can choose from a thousand ways with our practice making every choice the right one. The path of the Wayfarer has no particular direction, as Bilbo Baggins said it: Not all who wonder are lost.


  2. In the spirit of response and discussion, this reminds me of an essay I wrote about the the Zen related instincts of both wild animals and humans. An example I gave was that the ‘eye of the tiger’ has been used as inspiration to remain poised and ready to strike at the first opportunity.

    This of course is a great reminder to maintain mindfulness throughout our daily activities. Yet the tiger also has a life of many distractions. The Chinese for example, will recognise that the tiger is passionate and powerful, but also quite unpredictable. To maintain this unpredictable and fear-based existence, evolution has provided tigers with two sensory features.

    The first is tactile whiskers. This enables felines to find their way or judge the shape of obstacles if their vision is impaired. The second is a unique organ concealed within their mouth. By adjusting the shape of their face this organ is exposed and used as a detection tool for other marauding tigers.

    This obsession of sensory survival may remind us of our discoveries in the Heart Sutra, where our perception of separateness, created by our senses, should be seen as illusionary.

    When we practice meditation earnestly, we discover that there are no forms or conditions that have an independent or separate existence. Since everything is inter-dependently co-arising, nothing can truly be separated, divided or put into categories. These types of hindrances to mindfulness can then be dissolved instantly. So here our cousin the tiger can be a provident reminder to go beyond all feelings and perceptions, if we wish to relieve the suffering of our own incessant monitoring.

    Just a few mix and match thoughts.


  3. No path,
    once all is internalized then ejected,
    no in no out,
    there is nothing that can be grasped:

    Commentary on Mumonkan, Case 1 Chou Chou’s dog.

    Rats eat the cat food,
    Frozen, I shut Chou Chou’s mouth,
    The question was never asked, no answer
    Was ever given.
    A dog, Buddha nature, what nonsense,
    Yes or no was never uttered,

    A very cold wind blows over the Land,
    Buried so deep, the guts explode.
    The gullible believe this a matter of life and death,
    What indoctrination, what dumb stupidity.
    I am not taking the double barb again,
    Ripped my guts out, turned inside out,
    A pleasure, once vicarious,
    Now has left me deaf, dumb and blind.