What’s The Point of Zen?

A lot of people have misconceptions about the point of Buddhism or Zen — including things like achieving happiness, good health, outstanding moral character, relaxation, serenity, or the ability to shoot laser beams from your eyes.

These things may be side effects experienced or expressed by some practitioners but they are not the goal.

So what is the goal of Zen training? In a word: enlightenment. Here are some things that Zen Masters have said about the point or goal:

  • Absolute confidence in every day life.
  • Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha.
  • To see clearly.
  • To realize that the entire universe is the true human body.
  • To know thyself.
  • To become enlightened to the mind of the mind.
  • To become open to shifting.

These are all saying the same thing with different flavor. A trickier person might say that the goal of Zen training is Zen training. So enlightenment is the goal but there really isn’t a “point” because once the goal is achieved the point becomes irrelevant. As Shunryu Suzuki said: “Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you attain it, it is nothing special.”

And after you attain it, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be a good person, that’s not the point, and even if it was, it would be irrelevant.


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3 Responses to What’s The Point of Zen?

  1. lion says:

    BTW, Sirlin recently posted an interesting summary of a talk entitled The Neuroscience of Zen. He distills a pragmatic point of Zen training:

    Rather than being locked into the same old thought patterns, zen is an attempt to step outside of them to gain a larger perspective. We are usually so trapped in our ways of thinking that we don’t even know we are trapped in them. By briefly turning off the whirring of the brain, it’s a chance to perceive the world differently just briefly, and perhaps notice more about our thoughts when we return.

  2. Scott says:

    The point is a zero-sum game. To leave the premisses, with no trace. Not to do good, but to attain balance… it just the odds are you’ve done more harm than good over time.

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