Perhaps a simple test by which to determine if anyone is going to make it in Zen very far is to ask them if they like mysticism, and just what have they read which falls into the category of mysticism—say, for example, Plotinus.
This interests me because I am coming to the conclusion that Western Buddhists and Zennists are, by and large, incapable of understanding mysticism, and that is a bad thing. It means that they are really clueless about Buddhism and especially Zen. From what I can tell, they view Buddhism and Zen as a kind of psychological therapy, not realizing that the goal of Buddhism is to realize the unconditioned.
Although it should not be the rule, but often is, Dharma centers including Zen centers cater, almost exclusively, to people who are incapable of grasping what mysticism is all about and how Zen Buddhism is, actually, full-blown mysticism, Chinese style. I believe it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to teach people Zen if they are blockheads when it comes to understanding mystical reflection. It can only lead to problems. Such a situation reminds me of a Sutra from the Buddhagarbha.
[A] blind person asks others, “What does the color of butter look like?” A person answers, “It looks like snow.” The blind person touches snow and feels the coldness of it, and he assumes that the color of butter is cold. Another person answers, “It is like the wing of a swan.” He hears the sound of swans’ wings and assumes that the color of butter is “oor-oor.” Another answers, “The color of butter is like a conch.” He feels the smooth touch of the conch and assume that the color of butter is smooth. As a blind person cannot know color as it is, the Buddha-essence is also very difficult to realize (for anyone other than the realized ones) . . . .” (Longchen Rabjam, The Practice of Dzogchen, pp. 243-44).
Mysticism, as the above illustrates, is like a leap in which we must go from the familiar to something totally inconceivable and unfamiliar. There is no way by which we can anticipate what the Buddha-essence is. The mind that attempts to conceive of it is purblind. It will have to be left behind on the mystical journey for the simple reason that the Buddha-essence is inconceivable. How might one conceive their way to it?