Becoming Zen.

Via Blake Wilson
on Feb 24, 2011
get elephant's newsletter

I don’t study Zen to become Zen. I study Zen to become myself.

There seems to be a some debate about how one should or should not behave when they start studying Zen. It may possibly come from the eightfold path.

Wait. Allow me to back up a second here. For those who don’t know, Guatama Buddha come to a certain realization which states that:

  1. life is suffering,
  2. suffering comes from attachment,
  3. suffering can go buh-bye,
  4. the eightfold path is how you give suffering the bird.

Or something like that. These are called the Four Noble Truths. The fourth truth mentions the Eightfold Path which is:

  1. right view
  2. right intention
  3. right speech
  4. right action
  5. right livelihood
  6. right effort
  7. right mindfulness
  8. right concentration

I realize that most of you have probably, at least once, seen or heard about these. But considering I had to look them up, I figured a good number of you wouldn’t have it memorized (although I have no doubt that some of you spent a good amount of time with your Good Buddhist flash cards studying these lists).

So there it is, in black and white. There are “right” things to do which necessitates the fact that there are “wrong” things to do. Do the right things and you will alleviate suffering. Do the wrong things… not so much.

So what are these “right” things? I have no doubt that there are tons of books and blogs written on the subject. I have no doubt that if we sat down here, we could come up with a list for at least 1-5. And as fun as that might be, it would be missing the point.

All of these “rights” aren’t pointing to some great law or rule that one, as a Buddhist, must follow. What is meant is that in each interaction, in each moment, we must fulfill our roll. “Right view” isn’t the view that a Buddhist should have. It’s the view that you do have. “Right speech” means your speech. “Right livelihood” means your livelihood.

You will notice that, when you look at it this way, the goal isn’t to become a Buddhist. The goal is to become you. There really is no need to study what a Buddhist should or should not do. What is of utmost importance is you discovering you and your function in this world.

Zen is about becoming who you are, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not about becoming Zen.

Or not. I could be full of shit.


About Blake Wilson

Blake is a law librarian and a member of the Kwan Um School of Zen, sitting with the Kansas Zen Center in Lawrence, Kansas. Blake is way into g33k culture which, as he sees it, easily includes Zen, and is willing to share with you his struggles and observations. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and


16 Responses to “Becoming Zen.”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Les Elephants and blakethegeek, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Becoming Zen. […]

  2. YesuDas says:

    "The glory of God is the person fully alive." (St. Irenaeus) All very plausible, but I wonder: is "right speech" always "my speech"? Can't one express one's right view in the wrong way? I may really believe that my position trumps someone else's, but will it really do to tell them, therefore, to suck it? Because I can say some really shitty things in the sincere belief that I am right, but I almost always regret it later.

  3. Blake says:

    This is something that I plan on writing about further and it gets pretty complicated. When you are in a situation which calls for action, you are that action as much as you are you. "What should I do?" or "what should I say?" assumes otherwise. "What is this?" and "what now?" are probably fairer questions but the fact that we chomp and chew over what we should or should not do shows that we are forcing ourselves outside of the situation.

  4. YesuDas says:

    Well, I get that, in a Lightening Swords of Death sort of way–but is every situation really a hungry tiger or a hostile samurai? Is there never a time when what we ought to do is different from what we are inclined to do? Animals are unburdened by "shoulds" and "oughts", but isn't self-awareness what makes us human?

    And how far can we stretch the situation by telling ourselves we are "inside" it when we don't perceive it that way? If we were really aware of oneness, I suppose we would help homeless people rather than ignoring them, without all the chomping and chewing–but in the meantime, is there no room for "You know, you really ought to offer that guy a sandwich or something"? If we perceive ourselves as "outside" that person's "situation," it's going to take some should and oughts to get us to do the loving thing, isn't it?

  5. Blake says:

    That's why this is "practice." But even then, where do the "oughts" and "shoulds" come from? A rule book?

  6. BenRiggs says:

    What if "right" in this sense just means natural… In other words, what if speech, action, and effort (+ all the rests) speaks itself, acts itself, exerts itself just as the heart beats itself and the lungs breathe themselves? But this naturalness or spontaneity is only expressed or manifest in a moment where i have forgotten myself?

  7. Zarathustra says:

    "Right" in that it feels right?

    Thanks for this! Bravissimo!

  8. Rebecca says:

    I'm with Ben on this one- and also, if one is expressing "right"- becoming the "right" one you are to be- the point is, I think, that then you are expressing yourself naturally, and it would be difficult to express one's view the wrong way. Regardless, ditto, thanks, bravissimo!

  9. Blake says:

    Yes but I don't think it's not so much forgetting yourself as it is truly seeing yourself. Unless by "forgetting yourself" you just mean "putting down your conception of who you are in exchange for seeing it." That I get can down with!

  10. Blake says:

    Are you familiar with body memory? It's like when you study a martial art, you practice a move over and over again. Then one day, someone throws a punch and you just block it. No thought. No feeling. Just do.

  11. Blake says:

    But I hesitate to say that you are "forgetting yourself." It seems to me that you actually find yourself. But, like I said, depends what you mean by "forgetting yourself."

  12. BenRiggs says:

    One morning as we were all sitting zazen silently in the zendo, Suzuki Roshi said, “Don’t move. Just die over and over. Don’t anticipate. Nothing can save you now, because this is your last moment. Not even enlightenment will help you now, because you have no other moments, with no future. Be true to yourself, and don’t move.” ~from Valentine's Day Isn't For Lovers on Elephant

    This is what I mean by forget yourself.

  13. […] the pursuit. We rediscover, rather, what we already know, uncover what was already there—what Zen calls your original face, what Hinduism calls your true self. But we have to get real still, so […]

  14. […] the pursuit. We rediscover, rather, what we already know, uncover what was already there—what Zen calls your original face, what Hinduism calls your true self. But we have to get real still, so […]

  15. […] Being Buddhist is definitely where it’s at. Bonus video: Illest Buddhist. […]

  16. Sarah says:

    I LOVE THIS!!!