The key to understanding Zen Buddhism is to understand the phrase “I don’t know.” In this phrase is hidden the secrets of Zen and Zen Meditation. At first glance this may seem counter intuitive or just a play on words, but I assure you that is not the case. This is really the essence of Zen and once you grasp what is being implied here, all the Zen teachings will start to make sense.
The problem, according to Zen is not “not-knowing”, it is in fact knowing too much. What needs to be qualified here is the type of knowledge that is being referred to. There is knowledge that is factual, such as the distance to the moon or the elemental makeup of water, but the knowledge that is being indicated here, is the knowledge having to do with our security and happiness. In other words, all that we know about what we ought to be doing to get out of life maximum happiness, is the knowledge that we need to purge ourselves of.
For ease of communication I will call this knowledge “Emotional Knowledge”, as it relates to how we need to go about increasing pleasure/happiness and decreasing pain/sorrow. This Emotional Knowledge, Zen is saying, is what drives us to endlessly seek and endlessly be restless. In other words, having accepted innumerable theories on how we need our life to be in order to be happy, we are caught in a cycle of endless desire chasing these goals. Zen says, drop Emotional Knowledge or at least don’t emphasize it and instead just be open to the moment and meet the challenge of life which is right under your nose.
It is very hard to really say “I Don’t Know.” All kinds of theories, beliefs, ideologies, philosophies have been forced into us since we were impressionable children, which now dominate our mind and lives. We feel we need to do this or that in order to get this or that, which at the end will make us happy. Unfortunately, this approach has failed. Human beings always get used to what they have and then inevitably start to demand more. It just does not matter what it is or how much you have. You will eventually get used to having it and then will want more. The only way out of this endless cycle of desire is to surrender to the sate of “I Don’t Know.”
When you can really say “I Don’t Know”, then there is little for the mind to chase and pursue. Then you just look at life and do what is necessary and as you continue on in this way of living in the moment, desire starts to lose its grip on you. In Zen this is called mindful living. Real freedom then makes its welcome appearance as awareness, free now from outward seeking, moves inward and reveals the secrets hidden deep within us.
To work towards this state of “I Don’t Know”, you need to question all your desires. Too often, in this atmosphere of commercialism, we have been seduced by clever advertisement and social propaganda. Corporations and those in power need you to buy into the happy, pleasurable future they are promising, else they will either lose their sale or your vote. So you need to see if you can remain untouched by this atmosphere of endless consumption. Once you buy in, then you are in the rat race, because now you think you know what you need to get to be happy and so you are off and running, if you don’t buy in you stand apart and are free.
So next time someone asks you, What is it that you want in life? Look at them and just smile. Welcome to the wonderful world of Zen.
Anmol Mehta is a Yoga Teacher & Zen Expert. His extensive site, Free Guided Chakra Meditation Practice & Kundalini Yoga Exercises, offers Free Online Guided Meditation Techniques. You will also find articles & lively discussions on the Free Guided Meditation Practice, Kundalini Yoga Poses & Zen Meditation Blog.