The Value of Direct Experience

Zen has at its heart an inner solitude; its aim is to teach us to live, as in the last resort we do all have to live, alone…for after all the central doctrine of Buddhism is – Nothingness. And many of the sayings of Zen masters are truly nihilistic. The first patriarch of the sect in China was asked by the emperor what was the ultimate and holiest principle of Buddhism. He replied, ‘Vast emptiness, and nothing holy in it.’ Another who was asked the searching question ‘Where is the abiding-place for the mind?’ answered, ‘Not in this dualism of good and evil, being and non-being, thought and matter.’ In fact, thought is an activity which divides. It analyzes, it makes distinctions, it criticizes, it judges, it breaks reality into groups and classes and individuals. The aim of Zen is to abolish that kind of thinking, and to substitute – not unconsciousness, which would be death, but a consciousness that does not analyze but experiences life directly…it has no prescribed prayers, no sacred scriptures, no ceremonial rites, no personal god, and no interest in the soul’s future destination.
—  Gilbert Highet, The Mystery of Zen (1975)
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