What is Zen? (20 Years Later)

What is Zen? Nearly every writer on this topic has penned a piece with this very title. Twenty years ago, I led off my first book, The Zen of Recovery with “What is Zen?” Although we understand that words are inadequate to the task, we try anyway. Instead of repeating what I said in that old essay (of which, by the way, I wouldn’t change a word!), I want to attempt to describe a more mature (I’m 60 now!) and useful approxiamation of what Zen is and what is actually does in our lives.

I’ll try to stay away from cute, inscutable riddles and obfuscating metaphors, although any self-respecting Zen text is embroidered with them! Instead, I want to sincerely and plainly describe to you what I believe that slippery thing called “Zen” has meant in my life and how I practice it moment to moment, a day at a time. I assume if you’re reading this, you already have some experience in these matters or are familiar with the basic spiritual concepts. If not, you can first read my “What is Zen” essay at my website on the Zen of Recovery page: www.melash.com.

The practice of Zen has become, after all this time, for me as natural as breathing or eating. I am sometimes at a loss to describe it to curious new friends who discover this aspect of my life. While some may find it “exotic” or “spiritual”, I tend it view it as “What I Do.” Nothing more, nothing less. No big deal. Zen has led me to a place of great serenity and self-knowledge, delivered me from alcoholic insanity and allowed my native talents and creativity to blossom rather than being  choked with weeds of self-doubt and self- loathing.

It is all these things, but even more. More than being just a cool self-therapy or an effective spiritual path, Zen has allowed me to become confortable in my own skin, claim my place confidently in the chain of life and to view the good and the bad with equanimity. Most of the time!

Am I serene as a Buddha, beyond all human suffering and anger? Am I cleansed of all my karma and fear? If I was, I would be a poor excuse for a Zen Buddhist! I get angry, I cry, I grieve, I desire, I doubt, I f*&k up. But I try to do all these thing 100% and  not to hold on to the experiences after they’ve passed. Zen has made me a true human being along with all that means. I’m just like you, maybe more so!

To exist unashamedly in this human form  and to embrace its totality is, I believe, equivalent to the illusive state of Nirvana or the much ballyhooed attainment of Enlightenent. Disappointed? Don’t be. All Zen teachers say you are alreay a Buddha, already enlightened. Why not take them at their word? Why not stop looking for hidden meanings and deeper teachings? The truth is as present as the glasses on the end of your nose. You can stop looking for them now! Truth is a slap on the forehead and a loud “A-ha!”

What I am groping toward is a practical and immediately applicable defintion of what  is that Zen has given me. It might prove useful to you as well. These days, the phrase


keeps recurring in my thoughts. In the next few blog entries, I’ll explore this concept, word by word, and hopefully, be able to hand you a tool for immediate application in your own life.  I would like this to become a dialog and mutual examination and sharing. Please comment and post your own ideas about this phrase: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE OF WHAT I PERCEIVE. More later. Thanks for your kind attention.

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