When a beginner asks a question like, “What is the meaning of Zen?” or “What is the goal of Zen?” their question has merit inasmuch at it helps to expose either the depth or shallowness of modern Zen and especially those who, while pretending to know something about Zen, actually know very little.
When the answer to such questions takes the form of something like “to put an end all suffering” or “to become one with the universe” surely the beginner has a sneaking suspicion that such answers ring hollow.
No doubt the correct or formal answer to such questions, which keeps to the general context of Zen, is to be found within the four slogans of Zen which supposedly have their beginning with the legendary Indian Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma (but if truth be known, they were put together as the four slogans during the Sung/Song dynasty). The slogans are:
A special transmission transcending the canon;
Without dependence upon words and letters;
Pointing directly to the mind of man;
Seeing into one's nature, realizing Buddhahood.
I am sure most beginner’s eyes are drawn to the last two slogans which contain the answer they are really looking for. In a nutshell, the real meaning or goal of Zen is to look within ourselves so as to be able to see, directly, our true nature, attaining thus, Buddhahood.
Looking at this from a Western religious perspective such a goal easily falls within mysticism but minus theistic interpretations. This kind of mysticism which is unfolded in the Buddhist canon, is the distinguishing (prajñâ) of our true nature from the psychophysical body (Five Aggregates), the latter being man’s mortal part which is subject to death and again birth (punarbhava). What, in addition, we can draw from this form of mysticism is there is no dependence of any kind on doctrinal allegiance. As is easy to prove, the Buddha put direct awakening—not doctrine—before all else, that is, seeing one’s true nature. Zen remains true to the Buddha’s intent where looking into one’s true nature is made the goal.