I have been reflecting on my Zen journey quite a lot over the past few weeks. It’s hard to believe that I picked up my first batch of second-hand Zen books from a bookstore about a quarter of a century ago. At the time I didn’t even know why I was buying them. They just seemed interesting and, honestly, kind of exotic. I certainly didn’t expect them to send me off on a lifelong journey – but here we are.
I suppose I was somewhat fortunate that the original owners of those books bought well. Those first few finds were modern classics and translations of the masters. And despite not understanding 75% of what I was reading something stuck. The pursuit was intellectually stimulating but the subconscious attraction that propelled me forward was driven by the recognition of something running much deeper. Zen had the same unexplainable magnetic pull on me that the ocean has had on humanity throughout our history. I didn’t understand the mystery but I also couldn’t turn away from it. This is all much clearer now, with hindsight, than it was at the time.
That period of frantic exploration passed some time ago. There was a period of intense doubt and questioning along the way too. That passed as well. Now I mostly seem to have quiet conversations with myself. I read less and when I do it’s usually a return to Master Dogen. Life and death, almost 1,000 years, and language do not separate us. Ultimately, nothing can. Reading Dogen is a conversation with a dear friend.
I have been thinking a lot about ritual, form, realization, and actualization. The inter-relatedness of these concepts; the different but complimentary purposes that they serve and the ways that they play off of each other are so interesting. My relationship with each of them continues to evolve in complex ways. And despite all of the intellectual observation that is necessary to consciously navigate the world, it is clear that all of this stuff floats on an ocean of great simplicity and great perfection. There is really nothing left for me to do except get out of my own way.