Most beginners don’t seem to understand (not all of course) that Buddhism, if we follow Siddhartha’s own journey before he awakened and became “Buddha,” was all about awakening to the absolute, the nature of which is unconditioned, unlike the temporal world which is always conditioned. This is why the teaching of the Buddha ultimately aims at nirvana and not how to cope with the conditioned world of birth and death, as if this is all there is.
Zen Buddhism is the Chinese expression of Indian Buddhism. It teaches awakening to our true nature. In Zen Buddhism, the few adepts who succeed, see exactly what the Buddha saw, in other words. In this regard, there is not a hair’s breadth of difference between Indian Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism. The only discernible differences are cultural and matters of expediency or skillful means which are external.
If the West had the good fortune to have great Chinese Zen masters in the same way the Chinese had the good fortune to have many great Indian Buddhist masters to help them understand the essence of Buddhism, Western Buddhism—especially Zen—wouldn’t be heading towards becoming a secular religion.
We all know what the important secular religions of the West are. The two main ones that stand out in my mind—and this is no joke—are sports and science. Buddhism shows every indication of becoming a stepchild of the sciences. This is not a good thing because modern science does not believe in enlightenment anymore than it believes in UFOs, ghosts, the electrical theory of the universe and cancer has a microbial etiology. As a counter to such arrogant disbelief, the modern challenge for Buddhism is to dethrone science; putting it back where it belongs which is in technology. Only then can the quest for enlightenment begin in earnest, that is, awakening to the absolute which is at the heart of every living being.