The pupil then thought for a while about what the master had said to him, before eventually saying to the master, ‘Master, I’ve been thinking … What if I had said I couldn’t hear the mountain stream? … What would you have said then?’
‘Disciple?’ said the master. ‘Yes, master?’ said the pupil. ‘Enter Zen from there,’ replied the master.
If you ask, ‘What is Zen,’ you should not expect an answer---certainly not an answer that says something definite and intelligible to the conscious, rational intellect. You see, Zen is something inherently indescribable. Words fail to explain it or exhaust its meaning. However, if the Zen story set forth above says anything, it says this---Zen is to be experienced in the real and the ‘concrete’ as opposed to the abstract.
In Western religion the Ultimate ('God,' if you wish) is sometimes referred to as Pure Being or something like that---a very abstract idea. In Eastern religion the Ultimate---Zen, the Tao---is more like Pure Be-ing-ness/Living-ness of life itself experienced as real, living things---something (actually, 'no-thing') much more concrete. Get the idea? (If you do, you can explain it to me. Just kidding.) In Western religion the Ultimate creates by making. In Eastern religion the Ultimate creates (not quite the right word here) by 'not-making.' The Tao, the very essence of life, is something growing and evolving. It is forever dynamic and not static. It must be found in the everyday things of life---for example, in the sound of a mountain stream, or in the absence of any such sound, or in those inexplicable and gratuitously unfair things of life such as the death of one of your children.
Yes, the so-called ‘meaning’ (such an ugly word!) of life is to be found in the living of your days, in the very livingness of life itself. You will not find true meaning in anything or anyone other than in the real and concrete things of life. Those things include, of course, human relationships which can be quite meaningful. The intangible is to be found in the tangible. Indeed, the intangible and the tangible are one and the same. The extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary. Again, they are one and the same.
Calligraphy: (top left) mu [not, nothing, no-thing]; (below) mindfulness.