One of the dangers of over humanizing Zen, which is an attempt to locate truth in our human experiences, is that we may end up identifying our human experiences with truth. This may further lead us to the inescapable truth (a human truth) that our human life, at its most fundamental level, is meaningless (i.e., there is no ultimate reality). This means also that our human experience can have relative meaning but not final meaning. Stated otherwise, this is Protagorian relativism, that is, “Man is the measure of all things.”
Humanizing Zen is just a kinder way of saying dumbing Zen down. This doesn’t mean making Zen, by appearance, simplistic. Far from it. Zen can be made to appear quite sophisticated. However, it still boils down to fundamental meaninglessness, another way of saying epistemological nihilism—the big emptiness.
The various koan collections such as the Blue Cliff Records and the Mumonkan, not to mention the various sayings of Zen masters such as Yunmen, can be easily misread by the careless beginner. They can be interpreted as a general put down of realizing ultimate reality. He gleans from this literature, that Zen seems to be about living in the moment; that just living in the moment is final truth, the all there is. Again, we are back to relative truth; that I am the measure of what constitutes Zen even though classical Zen literature never once mentions living in the moment as being supreme.
When Zen master Tsung-mi said, “the Zen sect founded by Bodhidharma is the essence of Buddhism,” he meant by essence, seeing ultimate reality which is what the Buddha’s enlightenment is about. It doesn’t suggest that we live in the here and the now, or the moment as final truth. But few in these times are willing to accept this as being Zen. It is much easier to humanize Zen so that enlightenment becomes something akin to getting along with a difficult person (Joko Beck), for example, your boss at work. Just do some zazen and that’s it.