The foundation of Buddhism, with its origins in India, is that of the reality of life prior to all definitions. Different Buddhist scriptures express this same fundamental reality in various ways: emptiness of reality, reality as it truly is beyond logos (language), inexpressible tathata (suchness), true emptiness. Of course, since life produces all relative definitions, all definitions are life itself, but the reality of life cannot be bottled up in definitions of it. Althought it produces all kinds of definitions, the reality of life transcends all definitions.
Why do Buddhist teachings presuppose such reality beyond definition? The reason is simple: If we actually touch fire, we will certainly be burned, but if we merely say the word fire without actually touching it, we won’t be burned. Likewise, if we only think of the word fire, our heads will not be set ablaze. Therefore, the definition of fire, whose nature is to burn all things, cannot be the reality of it. Fire exists apart from its definition. In Zen, it is said that a person knows cold things and warm things only when she herself experiences them. Everything is taken in as the real life-experience of self. This means there is no true value in definitions of things, reports of other people, or so-called pure observation of things, from which the life-experience of one’s self is removed, observations assumed possible in Western science. As far as that goes, the difference I see between Zen and existentialism is that present-day existentialism is the philosophy of general existence, not the practice of the very life of the existentialist himself. The important thing for us is practice in which self truly lives out the life of self, not discussions and observations of general existence.
I was born Japanese, and perhaps you were born Caucasian. This is not something we chose by our so-called will, and yet, in fact, I am a Japanese and you are what you are. This is the reality of life that transcends our own measurement and discretion. Also, I am a Buddhist priest living a life of zazen practice in a certain temple in Kyoto, Japan, Is this way of life a way I chose by my own power? Yes, of course, in a certain sense, I did choose it. But where did I get the power to choose it? I can’t help but conclude that this choice, too, has been given life by a great power that transcends my own willpower and thought, whether you call it coincidence, fate, or the providence of God.
Using our intellect to come up with some answer to this is nothing but coming up with a one-sided or abstract answer. Ultimately, all we can say is that the reality of life is as it is. The reality of the life of the self is simply to live life just as it is. Self does not exist because I think about it or because I don’t think about it. Either way, this self is my life. Zazen truly puts this reality of life into practice.
Kōshō Uchiyama Roshi, in Opening the Hand of Thought, pp. 46-49
Let us all think less, talk less and experience more…direct experience is the only way to know life…not as we make it in our heads but as it is.