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“Empty-handed I go, and behold the spade is in my hands;

I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding.


The reason why Zen is so vehement in its attack on logic... is that logic has so pervasively entered into life as to make most of us conclude that logic is life and without it life has no significance. The map of life has been so definitely and so thoroughly delineated by logic that what we have to do is simply to follow it, and that we ought not to think of violating the laws of thought, which are final. Such a general view of has come to be held by most people, though I must say that in point of fact they are constantly violating what they think inviolable. They are making the sum of two and two sometimes three, sometimes five; only they are not conscious of this fact and imagine that their lives are logically or mathematically regulated. Zen wishes to storm this citadel of topsy-turvydom and to show that we live psychologically or biologically and not logically.


In logic there is a trace of effort and pain; logic is self-conscious. So is ethics, which is the application of logic to the facts of life. An ethical man performs acts of service which are praiseworthy, but he is all the time conscious of them, and, moreover, he may often be thinking of some future reward. Hence we should say that his mind is tainted and not at all pure, however objectively or socially good his deeds are. Zen abhors this. Life is an art, and like perfect art it should be self-forgetting; there ought not to be any trace of effort or painful feeling. Life, according to Zen, ought to be lived as a bird flies through the air or as a fish swims in the water. As soon as there are signs of elaboration, a man is doomed, he is no more a free being. You are not living as you ought to live, you are suffering under the tyranny of circumstances; you are feeling a constraint of some sort, and you lose your independence. Zen aims at preserving your vitality, your native freedom, and above all the completeness of your being. In other words, Zen wants to live from within. Not to be bound by rules, but to be creating one’s own rules – this is the kind of life which Zen is trying to have us live. Hence its illogical, or rather superlogical, statements.



From Ch. IV: “Illogical Zen,” An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, by D.T. Suzuki

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