PREFACE TO THE BOOK
"ENTERING ZEN" /
LỜI ĐẦU SÁCH “VÀO THIỀN”
Author: Doãn Quốc Sỹ
Translated by Nguyên Giác
(The book "Entering the Zen" by Doãn Quốc Sỹ had its first printing in Vietnam in 1970,
and a second printing in the U.S. in 2017.)
I cannot recall when I entered Zen Buddhism. I only know that, like drops of water persistently indenting a stone, Zen-like thoughts have been seeping into my mind day by day and month by month.
I've heard of Tuệ Trung in the Trần dynasty, who practiced Zen but still ate meat and fish at parties. Surprisingly, his sister Queen Khâm Từ asked, "You are a Zen practitioner, yet you still eat meat. How can you become a Buddha?”
He smiled and replied, "The Buddha was the Buddha. And I am who I am. I don't need to be a Buddha. Just like the Buddha doesn't have to become me."
His innocent words refuted the grasping view. Another time I heard Zen master Huệ Năng (i.e. Hui Neng) saying that carrying water and chopping wood is also Zen. I recently read Thầy Nhất Hạnh's "The Way Back of Thoughts," in which he writes that sweeping the house and cleaning the toilet with a relaxed and happy heart is also Zen. I recall that Master Nhất Hạnh began a section by describing a young boy eating rice and an egg while watching the rain. The passage said that the child's carefree and poetic mindset was a Zen state of mind. I've read so many articles about Zen in books and newspapers and afterward recalled things reasonable to me (at times I just vaguely recollect) and what dropped out of my memory should be things futile to my guts. I've thought very subjectively that this attitude of reading Zen is really… Zen.
In the summer of 1967 in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, an American friend who loved Buddhism gave me a beautiful book about Zen Buddhism that was published by The Peter Pauper Press. The book was printed in 1959 in Mount Vernon, New York. Thus, I was able to read amusing stories about Zen amidst the vibrant hues of Southern chrysanthemums, begonias, and azaleas, in the delicate aromas of magnolia flowers, and occasionally in the shade of moss-covered woodlands with branches that hung down like willow silk. Most of the Zen parables and anecdotes you read in this book are recounted according to that edition. These are the stories that exercise knowledge and help us discover the tragic impotence of mere reason.
What an absurdly immature mentality it is when we try to define Zen. But for those who suddenly ask me, “What is Zen?” I will even innocently answer, “In my experience, Zen is a worldly state of Nirvana."
In fact, the essence of Zen is a superior principle, a superior path, a breakthrough that is pushed to the absolute so that the truth of reality unfolds itself in our spiritual experience.
When we absorb the scent of Zen, the easiest attitude to understand is the hot awakening attitude that automatically unclasps the prejudice, like a spring tends to stretch when you press on it... That is the time when you absolutely refuse to let reason lock you up for life in a conceptual prison!
Like a river, life never stops flowing, not even for a moment. You will only see death or something that is motionless when you are enslaved to a mind that only wants to mutilate. The concepts born from narrow and rigid reason cannot capture the constant stream of interdependent and interactional reality.
The perspective and understanding of a fish that suddenly throws itself above the water to get a glimpse of the ocean, even if it's just an overview, will be very different from those of a fish that swims endlessly in the middle of the ocean.
The truth wrapped in each Zen story is like a match that only lights up once. When the same question is asked twice, don't expect two responses that are identical.
No one lives for us: each of us, just like a living match, lives by ourselves, and alone reflects on Zen. When a match goes out, only a little blue smoke remains. Then that little bit of blue smoke also fades and disappears like a footprint erased by the wind on the sand. Though conceptions cannot carry reality, people can still understand reality by depending on concepts; Thus we should capture some little blue smoke at that poetic moment. And thus, I am writing this book "Entering the Zen."
Now let's actually enter Zen, get acquainted with breaking attachments, and learn to break attachments. While you read the headlines such as Entering Zen, Word of Zen, the Way of Zen, etc., please don't be surprised when they suddenly become illusory and overhang their boundaries.
Who can hold water in a fist?