Zen: The Path of Paradox

Osho on Zen

Zen is not a theology, it is a religion — and religion without a theology is a unique phenomenon. All other religions exist around the concept of God. They have theologies. They are God-centric not man-centric; man is not the end, God is the end. But not so for Zen.

For Zen, man is the goal, man is the end unto himself God is not something above humanity, God is something hidden within humanity. Man is carrying God in himself as a potentiality.

So there is no concept of God in Zen. If you want you can say that it is not even a religion — because how can there be a religion without the concept of God? Certainly those who have been brought up as Christians, Mohammedans, Hindus, Jews, cannot conceive of what sort of religion Zen is. If there is no God then it becomes atheism. It is not. It is theism to the very core — but without a God. This is the first fundamental to be understood. Let it sink deep within you, then things will become clear.

Zen says that God is not extrinsic to religion, it is intrinsic. It is not there, it is here. In fact there is no ‘there’ for Zen, all is here. And God is not then, God is now — and there is no other time. There is no other space, no other time. This moment is all. In this moment the whole existence converges, in this moment all is available.

If you cannot see it that does not mean that it is not available — it simply means you don’t have the vision to see it. God has not to be searched for, you have only to open your eyes. God is already the case. Prayer is irrelevant in Zen — to whom to pray? There is no God sitting there somewhere in the heavens and controlling life, existence. There is no controller. Life is moving in a harmony on its own accord. There is nobody outside it giving it commandments. When there is an outside authority it creates a kind of slavery… a Christian becomes a slave, the same happens to a Mohammedan. When God is t

here commanding, you can be at the most a servant or a slave. You lose all dignity. Not so with Zen. Zen gives you tremendous dignity. There is no authority anywhere. Freedom is utter and ultimate…

Zen says that with God, man will remain a slave; with God, man will remain a worshipper; with God, man will remain in fear. In fear how can you bloom? You will shrink, you will become dry, you will start dying. Zen says that when there is no God there is tremendous freedom, there is no authority in existence. Hence there arises great responsibility. Look… if you are dominated by somebody you cannot feel responsible. Authority necessarily creates irresponsibility; authority creates resistance; authority creates reaction, rebellion, in you — you would like to kill God. That’s what Nietzsche means when he says God is dead — it is not that God has committed a suicide, he has been murdered. He has to be murdered. With him there is no possibility to be free — only without him. But then Nietzsche became very afraid himself. To live without God needs great courage, to live without God needs great meditation, to live without God needs great awareness — that was not there. That’s why I say he stumbled upon the fact, it was not a discovery. He was groping in the dark. For Zen it is a discovery. It is an established truth: there is no God. Man is responsible for himself and for the world he lives in. If there is suffering, you are responsible; there is nobody else to look to. You cannot throw off your responsibility. If the world is ugly and is in pain, we are responsible — there is nobody else. If we are not growing we cannot throw the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulders. We have to take the responsibility.

When there is no God you are thrown back to yourself. Growth happens. You have to grow. You have to take hold of your life; you have to take the reins in your own hands. Now you are the master. You have to be more alert and more aware because for whatsoever is going to happen you will be responsible. This gives great responsibility. One starts becoming more alert, more aware. One starts living in a totally different way. One becomes more watchful. One becomes a witness. And when there is no beyond…. The beyond is within you, there is no beyond, beyond you.

In Christianity the beyond is beyond; in Zen the beyond is within. So the question is not to raise your eyes towards the sky and pray — that is meaningless, you are praying to an empty sky. The sky is far lower in consciousness than you. Somebody is praying to a tree…. Many Hindus go and pray to a tree, many Hindus go to the Ganges and pray to the river, many pray to a stone statue, many pray towards the sky or many pray towards a concept, an idea. The higher is praying towards the lower. Prayer is meaningless. Zen says: only meditation. It is not that you have to kneel down before somebody. Drop this old habit of slavery. All that is needed is that you have to become quiet and silent and go withinwards to find your centre. That very centre is the centre of existence too. When you have come to your innermost core you have come to the innermost core of existence itself. That’s what God is in Zen. But they don’t call it God. It is good that they don’t call it God.

So the first thing to remember is that Zen is not a theology, it is a religion — and that too with a tremendous difference. It is not a religion like Islam. There are three fundamentals in Islam: one God, one book, and one prophet. Zen has no God, no book, no prophet. The whole existence is God’s prophecy; the whole existence is his message. And remember, God is not separate from this message either. This message itself is divine. There is no messenger — all that nonsense has been completely dropped by Zen. Theology arises with one book. It needs a Bible, it needs a holy Koran. It needs a book which pretends to be holy, it needs a book which tries to say that it is special — that no other book is like this, this is a Godsend, a gospel. Zen says everything is divine so how can anything be special? All is special. Nothing is non-special so nothing can be special. Each leaf of every tree and each pebble on every shore is special, unique, holy. It is not that the Koran is holy, not that the Bible is holy. When a lover writes a letter to his beloved that letter is holy. Zen brings holiness to ordinary life.

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A great Zen Master, Bokoju, used to say, ‘How wondrous this. How mysterious. I carry fuel, I draw water.’ ‘How wondrous this. How mysterious.’ Carrying fuel, drawing water from the well and he says, ‘How mysterious.’

This is the Zen spirit. It transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. It transforms the profane into the sacred. It drops the division between the world and the divine.

That’s why I say it is not a theology. It is pure religion. Theology contaminates religion. There is no difference between a Mohammedan and a Christian and a Hindu as far as religion is concerned but there is great difference as far as theology is concerned. They have different theologies. People have been fighting because of theology. Religion is one; theologies are many. Theology means the philosophy about God, the logic about God. It is all meaningless because there is no way to prove God — there is no way to disprove either. Argumentation is just irrelevant. Yes, one can experience but one cannot prove — and that’s what theology goes on doing…

Zen looks at humanity with undivided vision — it does not divide. It has a total look. That’s why I say that Zen is the religion of the future. Humanity is growing slowly towards that awareness where theology will be dropped and religion will be accepted purely as an experience. In Japanese they have a special word for it. They call it KONOMAMA or SONOMAMA — ‘Thisness’ of existence. This — capital ‘This’ — is it. This ‘isness’ of life is God. It is not that God is, but the very ‘isness’ is divine: the ‘isness’ of a tree, the ‘isness’ of a rock, the ‘isness’ of a man, the ‘isness’ of a woman, the ‘isness’ of a child. And that ‘isness’ is an undefined phenomenon, undefinable. You can dissolve into it, you can merge into it, you can taste it. ‘How wondrous. How mysterious.’ But you cannot define it, you cannot pinpoint it logically, you cannot formulate it into clear-cut concepts. Concepts kill it. Then it is the ‘isness’ no more. Then it is a mind-construction. The word ‘God’ is not God, the concept ‘God’ is not God. Neither is the concept ‘love’ love nor is the word ‘food’ food. Zen says a very simple thing. It says: remember that the menu is not the food. And don’t start eating the menu. That’s what people have been doing down the centuries: eating the menu…

A great Zen Master, Nanin, was cutting a tree in the forest. And a professor of a university came to see him. Naturally the professor thought that this woodcutter must know where Nanin lived in the hills, so he enquired. The woodcutter took his axe in his hand and said, ‘I had to pay very much for it.’

The professor had not enquired about his axe. He was enquiring where Nanin lived; he was enquiring if he would be in the temple if he went there. And Nanin raised the axe and said, ‘Look, I had to pay very much for it.’ The professor felt a little puzzled and before he could escape, Nanin came even closer and put his axe just on the head of the professor. The professor started trembling and Nanin said, ‘It is really sharp.’ And the professor escaped.

Later on, when he reached the temple he came to know that the woodcutter was nobody but Nanin himself. Then he enquired, ‘Is he mad?’

‘No,’ the disciple said. ‘You had asked if Nanin was in and he was saying yes. He was showing his “inness” and “isness”. That moment he was a woodcutter; that moment, axe in his hand, he was totally absorbed in the sharpness of the axe. He was that sharpness in that moment. He was saying “I am in” by being so immediate, by being so totally in the present. You missed the point. He was showing you the quality of Zen.’…

Zen is simple and yet difficult. Simple as far as Zen is concerned — it is the most simple thing, the simplest, because it is a spontaneous thing — but very difficult because of our conditioned minds, because of the insane world in which we live, by which we have been brought up, by which we have been corrupted. The second thing: Zen is not a philosophy, it is poetry. It does not propose, it simply persuades. It does not argue, it simply sings its own song. It is aesthetic to the very core, it is not ascetic. It does not believe in being arrogant, aggressive, towards reality, it believes in love. It believes that if we participate with reality, reality reveals its secrets to us. It creates a participatory consciousness. It is poetry, it is pure poetry — just as it is pure religion. Zen is very, very concerned with beauty — less concerned with truth, more concerned with beauty.

Why? Because truth is a dry symbol. It is not only dry in itself but people who become too much concerned with truth become dry also. They start dying. Their hearts shrink, their juices flow no more. They become loveless, they become violent, and they start moving more and more in the head.

And Zen is not a head thing, it is a total thing. Not that the head is denied, but it has to be given its right place. It is not given any dominant status. It has to function with the totality. The guts are as important as the head, the feet are as important as the head, the heart is as important as the head. The total should function as an organism. Nobody should be dominated. Philosophy is head-oriented; poetry is more total. Poetry has more flow to it. Poetry is more concerned about beauty. And beauty is non-violence and beauty is love and beauty is compassion. The Zen seeker looks into reality to find out the beautiful… in the songs of the birds, in the trees, in the dance of a peacock, in the clouds, in the lightning, in the sea, in the sands. It tries to look for the beautiful. Naturally, to look for the beautiful has a totally different impact. When you are searching for truth, you are more male; when you are searching for beauty, you are more female. When you are searching for truth you are more concerned with reason; when you are searching for beauty you have to be more and more concerned with intuition. Zen is feminine. Poetry is feminine. Philosophy is very male, very aggressive. It is a male mind.

Zen is passive — that’s why in Zen, sitting became one of the most important meditations. Just sitting — zazen. Zen people say that if you simply sit doing nothing, things will happen. Things will happen on their own; you need not go after them, you need not seek them, you need not search for them. They will come. You simply sit. If you can sit silently, if you can fall into a tremendous restfulness, if you can ‘unlax’ yourself, if you can drop all tensions and become a silent pool of energy, going nowhere, searching nothing, God starts pouring into you. From everywhere God rushes towards you. Just sitting, doing nothing, the spring comes and the grass grows by itself. And remember, when Zen says ‘just sitting’ it means just sitting — nothing else, not even a mantra.

If you are repeating a mantra you are not just sitting, you are again getting into some tommyrot, again into some mind thing. If you are not doing anything whatsoever…. Thoughts are coming, coming; they are going, going — if they come, good; if they don’t come, good. You are not concerned with what is happening, you are simply sitting there. If you feel tired you lie down. If you feel your legs getting tense you spread them. You remain natural. Not even watching. Not making any effort of any kind. That’s what they mean by just sitting. Just sitting it happens…

The third thing: Zen is not science but magic. But it is not the magic of the magicians, it is magic as a way to look into life. Science is intellectual. It is an effort to destroy the mystery of life. It kills the wonder. It is against the miraculous.

Zen is all for it — for the miraculous, for the mysterious. The life mystery has not to be solved because it cannot be solved. It has to be lived. One has to move into it, cherish it. It is a great joy that life is a mystery. It has to be celebrated.

Zen is magic. It gives you the key to open the miraculous. And the miraculous is in you and the key is also in you.

 When you come to a Zen Master he simply helps you to be silent so that you can find your key which you are carrying all along the way, and you can find your door — which is there — and you can enter into your own innermost shrine.

And the last fundamental:

Zen is not morality, it is aesthetics. It does not impose a code of morality, it does not give you any commandments: do this, don’t do that. It simply makes you more sensitive towards the beautiful, and that very sensitivity becomes your morality. But then it arises out of you, out of your consciousness, Zen does not give you any conscience as against consciousness; it simply gives you more consciousness and your More consciousness becomes your conscience.

 Then it is not that Moses gives you a commandment, it is not that it comes from the Bible or Koran or Vedas… it is not coming from outside. It comes from your innermost core. And when it comes from there,  it is not a slavery, it is freedom. When it comes from there it is not that you are doing it as a duty, reluctantly. You enjoy doing it. It becomes your love.


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

Discourse Series:

Zen: The Path of Paradox, Vol 1

Chapter #1

Chapter title: Join the Farthest Star

11 June 1977 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on ‘Zen’ in many of His discourses. More on the subject can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Ah, This!
  2. The Buddha: The Emptiness of the Heart
  3. Communism and Zen Fire, Zen Wind
  4. The First Principle
  5. Dang Dang Doko Dang
  6. The Grass Grows By Itself
  7. Live Zen
  8. The Miracle
  9. Take It Easy, Vol 1
  10. This, This, A Thousand Times This: The Very Essence of Zen
  11. Walking in Zen, Sitting in Zen
  12. The Zen Manifesto: Freedom From Oneself
  13. Zen: The Path of Paradox, Vol 1
  14. Zen: The Solitary Bird, Cuckoo of the Forest
  15. Zen: The Quantum Leap From Mind to No-Mind
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