Zen Buddhism is sliding downhill at a rather fast rate becoming “fake Zen” which is a distortion of Zen’s history, tradition, and ultimate object. By distortion I mean a narrative that essentially falsifies Zen by a variety of means such as omitting key facts and altering others. To aid those who are new to Zen I have decided to do a Q&A between the Beginner and Luànsēng 亂僧 (crazy monk) who will be the fake Zen master. Is this also a satire on contemporary Zen? Hell yes!
Beginner: I am new to Zen. It seems to me that what I have learned so far is that Zen is not a religion like Buddhism.
Luànsēng: Yes, that is right. Zen is not a religion like Buddhism. Buddhists make statues and pray to Buddha. Zen is not a religion—it is not faith based. It is what you would call a lifestyle. This means that there are no rules to follow in Zen. Yes, there is etiquette and a few rituals but everyone knows it is pretty much of a joke. In the old days Zen was not really practiced so much in a monastery as it was just about living in the now.
Beginner: So having a good time is basically Zen, like drinking beer or occasionally doing drugs and having sex?
Luànsēng: Basically, yes. You could say that Zen is the way of emptiness which is the way of having a good time. Nothing really matters in other words.
Beginner: In a nutshell what is the history of Zen, I mean what should beginners need to know?
Luànsēng: The Chinese invented Zen, then later the Buddhists hijacked it claiming it was theirs. In so doing, Buddhism tried to make Zen religious, that you are supposed to realize your Buddha-nature or pure Mind. Also Buddhists wanted Zen to be about seated meditation learning to still your thoughts learning to calm down. But this is not what Zen meditation is really about. Zen meditation is just experiencing the way your ordinary mind is, nothing more. Zen masters just want you to be natural, doing anything you feel like doing as long as you are happy doing it. If not, just stop.
Beginner: I read somewhere that Zen is really a form of Taoism. Is that true?
Luànsēng: If Taoism is the Way, then Zen is the Way of having a good time so you can have a good time for a long time. Before Buddhism took hold of Zen, the old masters just walked around the woods or in the towns. They were like happy hobos. They would teach people with a great deal of humor and laughter about how to live a carefree life. Alan Watts, who was the world’s foremost expert on Zen, lived a Zen life similar to that of Liu Ling the Taoist poet who liked to drink lots of wine. His servant always followed him carrying a jug of wine and a spade. He was sure of always having wine and if he died by over drinking his servant would be ready to bury him. Alan Watts once said “I’m an entertainer, I’m no Buddhist philosopher.” He understood that life was about entertaining yourself and others.
Beginner: Why do the Zen masters speak of the Buddha so often?
Luànsēng: Basically, they are saying that we are all Buddhas. I mean, we are Buddhas if we want to be a Buddha and live a carefree life. Jack the Ripper or Ted Bundy weren’t Buddhas because they liked killing people.
Beginner: What exactly are koans all about?
Luànsēng: Koans just show people how dumb religious questions really are. Sometimes if the students are too serious about religion Zen masters might cut off their finger or kill a cat.
Beginner: I am just curious about sex and Zen.
Luànsēng: In the West Zen masters usually have sex with their nuns or more advanced students. It is not unusual for a monk and a nun to go into the woods and enjoy each other. Since Zen is not connected with Buddhism sex is okay if you like each other. Just remember that in Zen there are no judges.
The inspiration for these questions and answers have been drawn mainly from chat rooms. Over a period of about three years I have collected a lot of materials from fake Zennists. But some of the material came from other people who spent time in an American Zen monastery.
Putting all this together in the form of a satire on contemporary Zen is meant to offend everyone connected with this kind of Zen except the person who enjoys reading this satire!