Osho on Zen

ZEN IS JUST ZEN. There is nothing comparable to it. It is unique — unique in the sense that it is the most ordinary and yet the most extraordinary phenomenon that has happened to human consciousness. It is the most ordinary because it does not believe in knowledge, it does not believe in mind. It is not a philosophy, not a religion either. It is the acceptance of the ordinary existence with a total heart, with one’s total being, not desiring some other world, supra-mundane, supra-mental. It has no interest in any esoteric nonsense, no interest in metaphysics at all. It does not hanker for the other shore; this shore is more than enough. Its acceptance of this shore is so tremendous that through that very acceptance it transforms this shore — and this very shore becomes the other shore:

This very body the buddha;
This very earth the lotus paradise.

Hence it is ordinary. It does not want you to create a certain kind of spirituality, a certain kind of holiness. All that it asks is that you live your life with immediacy, spontaneity. And then the mundane becomes the sacred.

The great miracle of Zen is in the transformation of the mundane into the sacred.

And it is tremendously extraordinary because THIS way life has never been approached before, THIS way life has never been respected before.

Zen goes beyond Buddha and beyond Lao Tzu. It is a culmination, a transcendence, both of the Indian genius and of the Chinese genius. The Indian genius reached its highest peak in Gautam the Buddha and the Chinese genius reached its highest peak in Lao Tzu. And the meeting…the essence of Buddha’s teaching and the essence of Lao Tzu’s teaching merged into one stream so deeply that no separation is possible now. Even to make a distinction between what belongs to Buddha and what to Lao Tzu is impossible, the merger has been so total. It is not only a synthesis, it is an integration. Out of this meeting Zen was born. Zen is neither Buddhist nor Taoist and yet both. To call Zen “Zen Buddhism” is not right because it is far more. Buddha is not so earthly as Zen is. Lao Tzu is tremendously earthly, but Zen is not only earthly: its vision transforms the earth into heaven. Lao Tzu is earthly, Buddha is unearthly, Zen is both — and in being both it has become the most extraordinary phenomenon.

The future of humanity will go closer and closer to the approach of Zen, because the meeting of the East and West is possible only through something like Zen, which is earthly and yet unearthly. The West is very earthly, the East is very unearthly. Who is going to become the bridge? Buddha cannot be the bridge; he is so essentially Eastern, the very flavor of the East, the very fragrance of the East, uncompromising. Lao Tzu cannot be the bridge; he is too earthly. China has always been very earthly. China is more part of the Western psyche than of the Eastern psyche. It is not an accident that China is the first country in the East to turn communist, to become materialist, to believe in a godless philosophy, to believe that man is only matter and nothing else. This is not just accidental. China has been earthly for almost five thousand years; it is very Western. Hence Lao Tzu cannot become the bridge; he is more like Zorba the Greek. Buddha is so unearthly you cannot even catch hold of him — how can he become the bridge?

When I look all around, Zen seems to be the only possibility, because in Zen, Buddha and Lao Tzu have become one. The meeting has already happened. The seed is there, the seed of that great bridge which can make East and West one. Zen is going to be the meeting-point. It has a great future — a great past and a great future. And the miracle is that Zen is neither interested in the past nor in the future. Its total interest is in the present. Maybe that’s why the miracle is possible, because the past and the future are bridged by the present. The present is not part of time. Have you ever thought about it? How long is the present? The past has a duration, the future has a duration. What is the duration of the present? How long does it last? Between the past and the future can you measure the present? It is immeasurable; it is almost not. It is not time at all: it is the penetration of eternity into time.

And Zen lives in the present. The whole teaching is: how to be in the present, how to get out of the past which is no more and how not to get involved in the future which is not yet, and just to be rooted, centered, in that which is. The whole approach of Zen is of immediacy, but because of that it can bridge the past and the future. It can bridge many things: it can bridge the past and the future, it can bridge the East and the West, it can bridge body and soul. It can bridge the unbridgeable worlds: this world and that, the mundane and the sacred.

BEFORE WE ENTER INTO this small anecdote it will be Good to understand a few things. The first: the Masters do not tell the truth. Even if they want to they cannot; it is impossible. Then what is their function? What do they go on doing? They cannot tell the truth, but they can call forth the truth which is fast asleep in you. They can provoke it, they can challenge it. They can shake you up, they can wake you up. They cannot give you God, truth, NIRVANA, because in the first place you already have it all with you. You are born with it. It is innate, it is intrinsic. It is your very nature. So anybody who pretends to give you the truth is simply exploiting your stupidity, your gullibility. He is cunning — cunning and utterly ignorant too. He knows nothing; not even a glimpse of truth has happened to him. He is a pseudo Master. Truth cannot be given; it is already in you. It can be called forth, it can be provoked. A context can be created, a certain space can be created in which it rises in you and is no more asleep, becomes awakened.

The function of the Master is far more complex than you think. It would have been far easier, simpler, if truth could be conveyed. It cannot be conveyed, hence indirect ways and means have to be devised…The Master cannot give you the truth but he can call forth the truth. He can stir something in you. He can trigger a process in you which will ignite a fire, a flame. Truth you are — just so much dust has gathered around you. The function of the Master is negative: he has to give you a bath, a shower, so the dust disappears. That’s exactly the meaning of Christian baptism. That’s what John the Baptist was doing in the River Jordan. But people go on misunderstanding. Today also baptism happens in the churches; it is meaningless. John the Baptist was preparing people for an inner bath. When they were ready he would take them symbolically into the River Jordan. That was only symbolic — just as your orange clothes are symbolic, that bath in the River Jordan was symbolic — symbolic that the Master can give you a bath. He can take the dust, the dust of centuries, away from you. And suddenly all is clear, all is clarity. That clarity is enlightenment…

ZEN SAYS: IF YOU CAN DROP PHILOSOPHIZING, there is a hope for you. The moment you drop philosophizing you become innocent like a child. But remember: — the Zen emphasis on not knowing does not mean that it emphasizes ignorance. Not knowing is not ignorance; not knowing is a state of innocence. There is neither knowledge nor ignorance; both have been transcended. An ignorant man is one who ignores; that’s how the word comes. The root is “ignoring.” The ignorant person is one who goes on ignoring something essential. In that way the knowledgeable person is the most ignorant person, because he knows about heaven and hell and he knows nothing about himself. He knows about God, but he knows nothing about who he is, what this consciousness inside is. He is ignorant because he is ignoring the MOST fundamental thing in life: he is ignoring himself.

He is keeping himself occupied with the non-essential. He is ignorant — full of knowledge, yet utterly ignorant.

Not knowing simply means a state of no-mind. Mind can be knowledgeable, mind can be ignorant. If you have little information you will be thought ignorant; if you have more information you will be thought knowledgeable. Between ignorance and knowledge the difference is that of quantity, of degrees. The ignorant person is less knowledgeable, that’s all; the very knowledgeable person may appear to the world as less ignorant, but they are not different, their qualities are not different.  Zen emphasizes the state of not knowing. Not knowing means one is neither ignorant nor knowledgeable. One is not knowledgeable because one is not interested in mere information, and one is not ignorant because one is not ignoring — one is not ignoring the most essential quest. One is not ignoring one’s own being, one’s own consciousness. Not knowing has a beauty of its own, a purity. It is just like a pure mirror, a lake utterly silent, reflecting the stars and the trees on the bank.

The state of not knowing is the highest point in man’s evolution.

Knowledge is introduced to the mind after physical birth. Knowing is always present, like the heart knowing how to beat or a seed knowing how to sprout, or a flower knowing how to grow, or a fish knowing how to swim. And it is quite different from knowing about things. So please make a distinction between knowledge and knowing.

The state of not knowing is really the state of knowing because when all knowledge and all ignorance have disappeared you can reflect existence as it is.

Knowledge is acquired after your birth, but knowing comes with you. And the more knowledge you acquire, the more and more knowing starts disappearing because it becomes covered with knowledge. Knowledge is exactly like dust and knowing is like a mirror.

The heart of knowing is now. Knowledge is always of the past. Knowledge means memory. Knowledge means you have known something, you have experienced something, and you have accumulated your experience. Knowing is of the present. And how can you be in the present if you are clinging too much to knowledge? That is impossible; you will have to drop clinging to knowledge. And knowledge is acquired: knowing is your nature. Knowing is always now — the heart of knowing is now. And the heart of now…? The word “now” is beautiful. The heart of it is the letter “O” which is also a symbol for zero. The heart of now is zero, nothingness. When the mind is no more, when you are just a nothingness, just a zero — Buddha calls it exactly that, SHUNYA, the zero — then everything that surrounds you, ALL that is within and without, is known, but known not as knowledge, known in a totally different way.

The same way that the flower knows how to open, and the fish knows how to swim, and the child knows in the mother’s womb how to grow, and you know how to breathe — even while asleep, even in a coma, you go on breathing — and the heart knows how to beat. This is a totally different kind of knowing, so intrinsic, so internal. It is not acquired, it is natural.

Knowledge is got in exchange for knowing. And when you have got knowledge, what happens to knowing? You forget knowing. You have got knowledge and you have forgotten knowing. And knowing is the door to the divine; knowledge is a barrier to the divine. Knowledge has utility in the world. Yes, it will make you more efficient, skillful, a good mechanic, this and that; you may be able to earn in a better way. All that is there and I am not denying it. And you can use knowledge in that way; but don’t let knowledge become a barrier to the divine. Whenever knowledge is not needed, put it aside and drown yourself into a state of not knowing — which is also a state of knowing, real knowing. Knowledge is got in exchange for knowing and knowing is forgotten. It has only to be remembered — you have forgotten it.

The function of the Master is to help you RE-member it. The mind has to be RE-minded, for knowing is nothing but RE-cognition, RE-collection, RE-membrance. When you come across some truth, when you come across a Master, and you see the truth of his being, something within you immediately recognizes it. Not even a single moment is lost. You don’t think about it, whether it is true or not — thinking needs time. When you listen to the truth, when you feel the presence of truth, when you come into close communion with the truth, something within you immediately recognizes it, with no argumentation. Not that you accept, not that you believe: you recognize. And it could not be recognized if it were not already known somehow, somewhere, deep down within you. This is the fundamental approach of Zen.

“Has your baby brother learned to talk yet?”

“Oh, sure,” replied little Mike. “Now Mummy and Daddy are teaching him to keep quiet.”

The society teaches you knowledge. So many schools, colleges, universities…they are all devoted to creating knowledge, more knowledge, implanting knowledge in people. And the function of the Master is just the opposite: what your society has done to you the Master has to undo. His function is basically anti-social, and nothing can be done about it. The Master is bound to be anti-social. Jesus, Pythagoras, Buddha, Lao Tzu, they are all anti-social. Not that they want to be anti-social, but the moment they recognize the beauty of not knowing, the vastness of not knowing, the innocence of not knowing, the moment the taste of not knowing happens to them, they want to impart it to others, they want to share it with others. And that very process is anti-social.

People ask me why the society is against me. The society is NOT against me — I am anti-social. But I can’t help it — I have to do my thing. I have to share what has happened to me, and in that very sharing I go against the society. Its whole structure is rooted in knowledge, and the Master’s function is to destroy both knowledge and ignorance and to bring you back your childhood. Jesus says: Unless you are like small children you will not enter into the kingdom of God. The society, in fact, makes you uprooted from your nature. It pushes you off your center. It makes you neurotic.

Conducting a university course, a famous psychiatrist was asked by a student, “Sir, you have told us about the abnormal person and his behavior, but what about the normal person?”

“When we find him,” replied the psychiatrist, “we cure him.”

The society goes on curing normal people. Every child is born normal, remember; then the society cures him. Then he becomes abnormal. He becomes Hindu, Mohammedan, Christian, Communist, Catholic…there are so many kinds of neurosis in the world. You can choose, you can shop for whatever kind of neurosis you want. Society creates all kinds; all sizes and shapes of neurosis are available, to everybody’s liking.

Zen cures you of your abnormality. It makes you again normal, it makes you again ordinary. It does not make you a saint, remember. It does not make you a holy person, remember. It simply makes you an ordinary person — takes you back to your nature, back to your source.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: Ah, This!
Chapter #1
Chapter title: The Heart of Knowing is Now
3 January 1980 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on Zen, knowing, innocence, transcendence, ordinary, acceptancein many of His discourses. More on the subject can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  2. The First Principle
  3. I Celebrate Myself: God Is No Where, Life Is Now Here
  4. Tao: The Pathless Path, Vol 1
  5. Sufis: The People of the Path, Vol 1, 2
  6. Beyond Enlightenment
  7. From Bondage to Freedom
  8. Philosophia Perennis, Vol 2
  9. Vigyan Bhairav Tantra, Vol 1, 2
  10. From the False to the Truth
  11. Take It Easy, Vol 1, 2
  12. Hsin Hsin Ming: The Book of Nothing
  13. Tantra: The Supreme Understanding
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