Taking The Piss: What Exactly Is Zen?
I remember my first encounters with Zen. It was back when I was maybe eleven or twelve years old, hanging out with my friends on the street, philosophizing (as most kids in our age group might have also done at that time) about life. What does it all mean? Where do we all come from? Why are we all here? Why do we like the things that we like? A non stop series of mind-on-mind classifications in order to contextualize the reality that has been put before us. However, this is not Zen. This is thinking mind…
The real Zen came about following those arguments. No matter how heated it would inevitably get—calling each other names, ridiculing each other’s ideas—we would ultimately come to say, “screw it, let’s just play some ball!” Thankfully, our neighbour was always ready with his net and basketball for us to pull ourselves out of our own minds and put us back into Zen. Whether it be arguing at 10 p.m. about life and then playing some ping pong, or being out at 2 a.m. arguing about what we thought of school, eventually putting on some Avatar on our friend’s laptop; there was always a means to escape our minds and get us back into no-mind.
My next encounter with Zen came while I was working at my aunt’s bakery. Monotonous and repetitive work; packing, slicing, taking orders and sweeping up bread crumbs for 6-8 hours of the day. This time allowed me to learn to let go and focus solely on the task at hand. If I thought at all about the time left on the clock, the day would feel much longer than it needed to be. Yet, if I learned to zone out and just do for the sake of doing, occasionally looking back at the clock, I’d begin to notice the time seem to completely slip away. This is Zazen. The practice of doing for the sake doing.
With those two tools under my belt (and being completely unaware that these tools were the primary pathways to Zen—both letting go of the mind and becoming completely absorbed in the task at hand), I was unwittingly preparing myself to find Zen in other aspects of my life as well. Now I practice Zen more explicitly; through reading, training martial arts, or just sitting on the bus. But for all you thinkers out there, the question will inevitably become, “but can you practice Zen from the perspective of the mind?” or, more accurately, “can you snuff out the mind through mind?” This is what the mystics of old would call, The Path of Realization.
Realization only happens when you pair Knowledge with Experience (some would also call this the equation for Wisdom; but what is Wisdom, if not the Realization of what you already kind-of know?). If you’ve been following me for some time now, you will have noticed that I consume books like no-tomorrow. This isn’t a trick or some esoteric ability; neither is it an illusion. It is simply: practice. The more you read, the more you will come to the Realization that everyone is essentially saying the same thing. Seven billion voices, one message—listen close. So, armed with your Knowledge, all that’s left to do on the road to Realization is Experience. One cannot live off bread alone; one needs sustenance, needs nutrition, needs Experience. Thus, one cannot also learn Martial Arts (or anything, for that matter) through words alone. Hence, you must never be afraid to try; and (if need be) try again. Knowledge, paired with the Experience of that Knowledge (and vice versa) is essential to all aspects of life.
So, how do you achieve a Zen state of mind through the mind? By taking the piss.
The mystics always equate our world to being that of an illusion. That our attachment, our mind, is making us believe in things that aren’t actually there. Essentially, what they are saying is that the world is taking the piss and we don’t even know it!
What exactly is Zen? Zen is the realization that the world is peeing on you and telling you that it’s raining. However, you still enjoy it because you know that “at least it’s warm,” while the Truth of reality is actually very cold. Zen is taking the piss and enjoying it. It is pushing past the yoga of saying, “oh, screw the piss!” (Renunciation) and moving into, “but at least it’s warm…” (the Acceptance and Appreciation of It is What it Is).
-so, enjoy the rain.