It doesn’t seem to matter how long anyone has studied Zen, almost everyone continues to make the mistake of applying concepts derived from the everyday world to the true underlying reality (tathatā) which is beyond the everyday world.
Of course I understand that Zen is really new uncharted territory for everyone, and it is difficult to give up old habits, especially, habits of thought and how we use our mind. But this is what we must do.
Take, for example, looking for ‘pure Mind’ which consists of two words that evoke a concept. This concept is a representation of what the actual pure Mind is. This is a common way we use our mind. We form abstract concepts that represent many things or form mental pictures about people and places we are going to visit.
But no student of Zen has actually met, face-to-face, pure Mind. They have only managed to form various concepts about it, thinking about it. They lack the real thing. As we can see, they can’t seem to tell the difference between their concept of pure Mind and pure Mind itself. It would be no problem with a conceived or hoped for cup of coffee in one’s mind and a real cup of coffee on the kitchen table. Anyone could tell the difference.
If there are a number of students of Zen, each one will attempt his own spin of realizing pure Mind. Couple this with an unawakened teacher, the student will face almost insurmountable odds when it comes to seeing pure Mind beyond the framework of various concepts about it. This leads me to say that Zen is not as successful as we might imagine it to be.
As I have said a number of times before, in so many words, the transition from concepts to seeing the spiritual reality of pure Mind is like the difference between night and day. It is like having a deep and disturbing dream only to wake up to reality which has no part of the dream. Incidentally, this is where prajñāpāramitā kicks in. It is the further distinguishing of pure Mind from concepts and the phenomenal world. But it can only be done with the authentic attainment of pure Mind, not its representation as a metaphysical concept.