As I continue reading professor Paul Williams’s excellent academic study of Mahayana Buddhism (see my earlier post about this), I find myself developing a clearer understanding of the short list of essential ideas in Zen Buddhism. At least, it’s a short list of ideas that fit directly into the practice of a beginner such as I.
This involves a kind of stripping away, but first, an acquisition.
Western people learn about Buddhism in a vast number of different ways. Depending on one’s situation and time and location, one might collect a very vast number of ideas about Buddhism. It’s one thing if you are going to the same Dharma center time after time and hearing a teacher or teachers from one single tradition. It’s quite another thing if you are working alone, reading books and surfing on the Internet.
Even if you are hearing the teachings from a consistent tradition, you are probably reading some additional material from time to time. I do this just out of curiosity, as well as in attempts to better understand what I have heard in the Dharma room.
In Zen, there is a kind of cut-to-the-chase, no-nonsense tradition. I can refer only to this, because I have not had long exposure to any other tradition. But I get a sense that even though other traditions may seem, on their face, more complicated, we will hear a lot of repetition no matter which tradition we are hearing from. These repeated ideas — truths — are the same across all the traditions of Buddhism.
Attaining them, however, does not occur the first time we see them or hear them. This is the simplest truth of all.