When people begin to get excited about ideas, one of the biggest mistakes they tend to make is to talk a lot. You get excited about reading whatever, and so you decide to tell your friends about it. You start meditating and try to verbally convey your insights to anyone who might listen. You begin to think that inward progress must be shared with others, that it’s useless to progress in such a way unless it has an obvious correlative impact on the outside world.
This is a symptom of a larger problem, which involves trying to outwardly project your spiritual or ideological quests onto the rest of the world. It’s why some people go to one yoga class and then go spend hundreds of dollars on Buddha statues and self-help books. On a more extreme level, it’s why Richard Nixon reads Nietzsche and tries to become a half-assed emperor, or why college kids become foolishly defiant and obsessed with the politics of everyday life. Modern advertising has been applied to self-improvement and even philosophy in such a way that some believe they can be ‘saved’ if they go out and buy all the stuff, and consummate this by trying to talk the talk and walk the walk.
The truth, which will offend any overzealous practitioner’s vanity, is that there is no walk. There is no talk. As it goes, “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know.” There is nothing glorious about studying Zen or the like, it’s mostly a process of confronting your own inborn shittiness, a shittiness and baseness that is the default quality of being a human being. Humanism is glorious and relies on humanity’s collective ego, this false belief that we’re some sort of magical species capable of saving ourselves.
Zen, however, is not humanistic. If anything, it is an anti-humanism, encouraging us to emulate organic objects like trees and birds more than to try to embody some sort of ideal humanity. To practice means to shed past and future and attempt (with a near-100% rate of futility) to live entirely in the present moment while practicing. But it’s the attempt that’s valid, the act of pushing the boulder up the mountain by meditating each day and moving slowly towards a state of acceptance and non-attachment, even if it only lasts five or ten minutes. It’s the act that counts, the deliberateness. Detaching ourselves from all goals or convoluted means is the quest; the irony is that making your life questless is a quest in itself.