Quotes for ‘An Introduction to Zen Buddhism’

I recently read a very short yet informative text on Zen Buddhism, written by the famous D.T. Suzuki. The book, originally published in 1934, is called ‘An Introduction to Zen Buddhism’, and, as the title implies, it gives a very short and general idea about the basics of Zen and its teachings. Below I have included some of my favorite quotes from the text, which I found to be very inspiring and thought-provoking. For those who are unaware of what exactly Zen Buddhism constitutes, the general idea is that Zen encourages one to free themselves of all restraints (mental and physical) and to then pursue on a journey of self-reflection in order to find ones true being.

‘Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis; nor has it any set of doctrines which are imposed on followers for acceptance. In this respect Zen is quite chaotic if you choose to say so. Probably Zen followers have sets of doctrines, but they have so on their own account, and to their own benefit; they do not owe the fact to Zen’ (38)

‘If I am asked, then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one’s own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way’ (38)

‘Zen is a bottomless abyss’ (43)

‘The basic idea of Zen [Buddhism] it to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or super-added’  (44)

‘For whatever authority there is in Zen, all comes from within’ (44)

‘A [Zen] master would sometimes say: ‘I do not understand Zen, I have nothing here to demonstrate; therefore, do not remain standing so, expecting to get something out of nothing. Get enlightened by yourself, if you will. If there is anything to take hold of, take it by yourself’ (49)

When the Emperor of China asked a Zen sage what the holiest principle of Buddhism was, the sage replied ‘vast emptiness and nothing holy in it’ (50)

‘The only way to get saved is to throw oneself right down into a bottomless abyss’ (55)

When asked why Zen Buddhism comes off as illogical or irrational, D.T. Suzuki responds that ‘Zen would protest that the so-called commonsense way of looking at things is not final, and that the reason why we cannot attain a thoroughgoing comprehension of the truth is due to our unreasonable adherence to a logical interpretation of things. We must acquire a new way of observation whereby we can escape the tyranny of logic and the one sidedness of our everyday phraseology’ (58)

‘Zen has come to the definite conclusion that the ordinary logical process of reasoning is powerless to give a final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs’ (59)

‘Zen declares that words are words and no more. When words cease to correspond with facts it is time for us to part with words and return to facts’ (59)

‘Zen thinks we are too much slaves to words and logic’ (61)

‘Unless we break through the antithesis of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ we can never hope to live a life of real freedom. When we say ‘yes’, we assert, and by asserting we limit ourselves. When we say ‘no’, we deny, and to deny is exclusion. Exclusion and limitation, which after all are the same thing, murder of the soul’ (67)

‘Any answer is satisfactory if it flows out of one’s inmost being’ (68)

‘Copying is slavery’ (72) (kinda ironic given that this whole post is a copy of quotes, lol)

‘Whatever I can tell you is my own and can never be yours’ (91)

‘However deep one’s knowledge of abstruse philosophy, it is like apiece of hair flying in the vastness of space; however important one’s experience in things worldly, it is like a drop of water thrown into an unfathomable abyss’ (94)