The Mystical Branch of Buddhism


There are numerous branches of Buddhism and sometimes people ask me what is different about the Zen tradition.

What sets it apart from other traditions?

In Zen Buddhism the wisdom that leads to Enlightenment is transmitted.

Since the emptiness, or non-self nature of things, is the central idea of Mahayana Buddhism, it is hard to explain in words by definition.

The idea in the Zen tradition is that wisdom, or the mind seal, can be transmitted non-verbally from master to student. It is a personal and direct transmission from one who is already Enlightened to one in need of Enlightenment. In the Altar Sutra this lineage is traced back from the sixth Chinese Patriarch back to the Buddha.

The Sudden Enlightenment school of Zen Buddhism is the one that is represented in the Diamond Sutra. It became the standard interpretation of Zen teachings. It embraces an intuitive method of spiritual training aimed at discovering ultimate reality. Ultimate reality resides within us.

This reality is the fundamental oneness which pervades all things. It is called emptiness, that nothing exists apart from everything else. All things are one. It is from this emptiness that all things come and are what they are. Thus, nothing is independent.

One who comes to Enlightenment sees all things as a manifestation of this unity. The realization of the emptiness of things leads to a non-attachment. But, the goal isn’t to withdraw from things, but rather to continue to experience things but with the realization of their emptiness.

In Zen Buddhism the absolute is identified with our minds. The being who is Enlightened understands his mind to be identical with the absolute—without duality—especially between subject and object.

All things are connected and all things are one.

In the sudden Enlightenment school of Zen Buddhism, meditation helps calm the mind and eliminate dualistic thought in order to see reality as it truly is, in a nondualistic way. Enlightenment is sudden because it is our true nature and therefore can come upon us at any time.

One can prepare for Enlightenment by studying sutras and deep meditation, but Enlightenment comes all at once.

Since Enlightenment is intuitive, the teacher can try to help his student think intuitively by giving deeper teachings such as koan or hua tou meditation. But, the teacher can’t walk the path for the student.

They can only point the way.


When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

There have always been spokespersons for spirituality.

These are the mystics who dwell in both worlds, traveling deeply on the spiritual path, but also bringing something back to share. These are shamans, yogis, and gurus who go beyond the culture to the Truth and bring some of the Truth back with them.

This was the case for thousands of years of human history, when spirituality was flexible, mystical and transcendent. This paradigm is probably not what it used to be in the modern world. But, I’m not writing this to criticize the state of religion today.

In any case, these mystics, these representatives of oneness served the purpose of helping others discover transcendence in this world, guide others in the spiritual life or, at least, demonstrate what the spiritual life could be. They set an example and actualize spiritual goals.

For an individual to walk this path, of course they would need to have seen something of ultimate reality themselves. They have to live the path—as I said dwelling in two worlds, the world of void and the world of form. The mystic has to have used the spiritual eye to see beyond the world of delusion, the world of separation, and penetrated the oneness that is fundamental to reality.

A vision of unity is important.

The mystic can’t make others change the way they look at things. The mystic can point the way to seeing beyond duality and unlocking our minds. The mystic can even give advice (if it’s asked for) and can certainly set an example. But no one can break out of the delusions of duality and see their true nature without putting forth their own sincere effort.

In tribal cultures it was easy to find a spiritual teacher. Mystics had a role in the community. They were isolated at times, but had an important role to play in a lot of the functions of society. Is this still true? No.

A seeker can have a hard time. A good spiritual teacher will hopefully present themselves as a guide instead of a master.

So, what are those of us who teach mystical truths to others?

I am not a teacher or a priest. I am an awakener.

Our purpose is to walk between the worlds of void and form and to help others do the same. I am dwelling in oneness and pulling others onto the path with me.