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I have had an interest in Buddhism, in it's various forms, since roughly 2012; however, this waned over the years, and recently (within the last few months) has revived full force. I've practiced basic sitting meditation (zazen) for the last couple of months, mostly daily for ~20 minutes. Additionally, I've read INCESSANTLY on all things Buddhism...from the very basics (four noble truths, eightfold path)...into more complex literature, written by great masters of numerous Mahayana sects. My interests and reading has lead me primarily to Zen, which has essentially served to undue anything I thought I once previously knew with regards to Buddhism...with regards to anything, for that matter.
I'm REALLY hoping that someone can clarify things, at least slightly, at least enough to make this pursuit bearably sustainable. I'm unsure how many of you guys are experienced/studied in Zen. Let me begin by saying, although I am quite intrigued by Zen literature and have literally swallowed up books written by D.T. Suzuki, Alan Watts etc in the passed month, I am equally perplexed, frustration, and discouraged the more I read. In fact, I feel it begs the question: Is Zen really Buddhism? Or is it, perhaps, a bit of a cult in it's own right. At times, it seems to stray so far from Pali based Buddhist philosophy, and even so far from other forms of Mahayana schools, that it almost serves as it's own entity. In the relatively significant body of literature that I've read (which claims to be relatively comprehensive on the subject of Zen) in recent months, I have not stumbled upon much of anything in regards to ethics, to actual anecdotes or methods to improve or transform ones character in a "positive" way. I put positive in quotations, as to highlight the point that Zen seems to make ad nauseum of there being no positive or negative...no anything...(but everything)...no duality at all.
If anything, this just opens up the door to nihilism; it opens the door to spontaneous doing of ANY kind...for where is there a place for ethics or morals if duality does not exist at all? If all spontaneous action is an act of Zen...then whatever someone does is a perfect expression of that doing. Again, in Zen there is no place for right and wrong...good or bad. I certainly cannot be the only one to see this as alarming. Please...I beg that you save me from the "well, you don't understand Zen"...I'm simply reading the words on the page. SO..Issue 1: Where and HOW do you fit in ethics? How does Zen result in transformation of character in a "positive" way? If not, what's the point?
Particularly in the Soto sect, the whole intention for attaining Satori enlightenment is absurd and must be entirely avoided. Yet, if there is no intention to attain Satori, and there is no intention to attain anything at all...why spend countless hours sitting in zazen? Hours chanting the heart sutra? Hours sweeping floors and washing dishes? This is a true paradox, and again I ask you please spare me an explanation rooted entirely in Zen gibberish that I'm already confused by. Alan Watts had a great quote in his book "The Way of Zen"...in which he says that this concept is akin to receiving a medicine, that states on the bottle: "This medicine will work as long as you do NOT think of the green elephant when taking it". Of course, there is no way to not think of the green elephant as you take the medicine after reading the instructions now. And, this is what Zen seems to be.
Please someone help me out here...I'm pretty much driving myself insane trying to understand these contradictions. Please guide me...There are no Zen centers near here...Thank you so much.