At times, I think Westerners don’t seem to like either Buddhism or Zen Buddhism. Why do I say this? Well, it’s not too difficult when, for example, you examine very popular contemporary books about Zen such as Zen and the Brain by James Austin which is not a book about Zen so much as it is an attempt to reduce Zen to brain functions which suggests, at least the way I see it, that the brain is the Buddha (i.e., the awakened one) insofar as all experience—even awakening (sambodhi)—is subordinated to the brain.
Such ideas may go further so as to permit us to conclude that our brain acts by itself which is absurd. It is always the self that transcends the brain who acts. When this self acts the brain functions. When the self thinks certain pathways become active. The brain doesn’t think anymore than watching an automobile’s front tires moving right and left lead us to conclude that the automobile is doing this when it is the driver who is not a mechanical thing.
Zen, simply put, can’t be reduced to brain functions. It’s not authentic Zen. Nor can Zen be reduced to the physical act of just sitting in meditation which many Westerners seem to believe it can be. When Western Zen teachers teach their students that meditation is the most important aspect of Zen they err.
Zen is under siege insofar as its core principle in the West is being all but ignored which asks us to see our true nature and become awakened (buddha). According to Zen master Huang-po:
“Your true nature is something never lost to you even in moments of delusion, nor is it gained at the moment of Enlightenment. It is the Nature of the Bhutatathata. In it is neither delusion nor right understanding. It fills the Void everywhere and is intrinsically of the substance of the One Mind” (trans. Blofeld).
Sounds simple, but such words as these are foreign to Western ears. Huang-po’s words have the ring of ‘mysticism’ or the same, the esoteric, which gets thumbs down from most Westerners. It’s mumbo jumbo, not backed by science as if today’s science has the final say on what is ultimate reality. Be that as it may, the siege is on and has been on for some time. Zen, for now, will have public acceptance only if it rejects the esoteric. Only then will it be allowed a fair hearing. But this means the destruction of Zen.