👁 Most recently revised on 8 June 2014 by Pious Eye (David M. Hodges) 👁

blurred image of "winter railings" courtesy flickr's tarrytown (creative commons license)Image: intentionally blurred picture of “winter railings” courtesy flickr’s tarrytown (creative commons license).”

Originally written for a course at Luther Rice University & Seminary in August 2011, under the title “Zen: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t.” This post, please note, in not yet “complete”: Some revisions, such as introduction of relevant links, remain pending.


  1. Introduction
  2. Zen: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t
    1. Zen Philosophy: All Is One and Empty in A Reality Beyond Reason and Expression
      1. Introduction
      2. Discussion
    2. Zen Practice: Remaking Minds for A Reality Beyond Reason and Expression
      1. Introduction
      2. Discussion
    3. Zen: Review And Assessment
  3. Conclusion
  4. Notes
  5. Selected Bibliography

Introduction ^

This paper will survey central metaphysical and epistemological tenets of Zen philosophy and examine two Zen practices growing out of these tenets. The philosophy, and practices based upon it, will be shown willfully irrational and so contrary to the rational nature of the one true God revealed by Scripture. Based upon a presuppositionally Christian perspective, the paper will also suggest how Zen philosophy and practice may be tools for rebelling against or fleeing from God and for denying one’s own creaturely status.

This paper, thus, has a narrow rather than broad focus. It does not discuss seemingly benign ideas often associated with Zen, such as the uncontroversial notion that one’s actual experiences always have a richness to them that verbal descriptions and rational analyses never entirely capture, and that one should therefore be “mindful” of or “present” in them rather than, for example, doing many things at once all on auto-pilot. Unbelieving thought systems are never entirely false, since an entirely false system would appeal to no one (our creaturely awareness as God’s image cannot be so thoroughly effaced). Zen, thus, cannot help but include many truths. The focus of this paper, however, is on Zen errors , and on a very specific set of such errors.

Zen: Accepting Reality As It Isn’t ^

Zen Philosophy: All Is One and Empty in A Reality Beyond Reason and Expression ^


Merv Fowler identifies the key idea behind Zen practice as being “that suffering is not caused by the fact that each individual has something inherently wrong within, but because we are quite unaware that there is nothing wrong that needs to be put right [save the aforementioned lack of awareness—DH].”1 For Roshi (Zen teacher) Philip Kapleau, this idea becomes the basis of a question to help bring about the “doubt-sensation” (“a burning perplexity, a fundamental question that gives you no rest”) essential to Zen practice: “If all beings are inherently flawless and endowed with virtue and compassion as the Buddha declared, why is there so much hatred and selfishness, violence and suffering everywhere?”2 Thus, Zen denies that humans are fallen and require salvation, denies that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23),3 even while it admits that observed reality better comports with what it denies than what it affirms. Such denial of observed or commonsense reality is central to Zen philosophy, Zen holding that human observers, with their instinctive realism and rationally discriminating minds, fail to perceive reality as it is (or as it neither is nor isn’t, or as it both is and isn’t, existence-nonexistence being among the dualisms rationally discriminating minds deludedly impose on reality4).

Before looking more closely at Zen philosophy, one must answer the question that will doubtless occur to some: “But, isn’t Zen anti-philosophical, focused purely on practice and experience?” Though many believe “that Zen is ‘pure experience,’ beyond religion, beyond philosophy, beyond doctrine, no more Buddhist than any other religion,” this belief is contrary to fact, a “popular misconception.”5 The emphasis of Zen is indeed on practice and experience; but its practices, and the experience those practices seek to elicit, are grounded firmly in Mahayana Buddhist thought (though it also draws upon such Chinese thought systems as Taoism).6 As well, Zen teachers have themselves produced a great deal of written material that, while always concerned with practice, shows that practice philosophically grounded.7 This section will explore some key aspects of that philosophical grounding.


One key teaching of Mahayana philosophy influencing Zen thinking and practice is the concept of emptiness or sunyata, a “hallmark of the Madhyamaka school of [Mahayana] thought; indeed…the main teaching of the Prajnaparamita [Perfection of Wisdom] Sutras,” the writings “most important for Mahayana Buddhism in general and Zen in particular.”8 Nagarjuna, an Indian Buddhist thinker whom adherents of Zen consider their 14th patriarch9 (and consider next in importance only to the Buddha himself), identified recognition of emptiness as “the true state of all existence” as the wisdom (prajna) necessary to obtain nirvana.10 Emptiness, as Fowler summarizes it, “is the absence of svabhava , own-being, in all things,” owing to the fact that “everything is dependent on other causes and conditions for its existence” and “nothing can exist of itself.”11 (A creator God who is a non-contingent and necessary being, deemed by much Western philosophy the best and perhaps only way to make sense of the existence of contingent entities, is not a possibility considered by the teachers of emptiness.) The implication of emptiness, as Fowler understands it (and as Fowler understand Nagarjuna) is that

…truth cannot be found in something that is, or something that is not[; rather,] it can only be found in the middle point between these two dualities….By gaining knowledge of this middle point between dualities, finite definitions are transcended….This emptiness, however, is neither nothingness nor a particular essence characteristic of all things; it is much more the idea that ultimate reality is something that cannot exist in finite things or ideas, even the idea of emptiness itself. If, then, there is any ultimate truth, it is both inexpressible and inconceivable.12

Though Fowler here seems to accurately describe the Zen teachings on non-duality and the ineffability of ultimate reality, he does not make at all clear how these teachings follow from emptiness.

David Burton offers much more detailed discussion of core Buddhist concepts, the variations found among different schools of Buddhist thought, and the various possible interpretations of extant Buddhist literature.13 Though his study does not focus specifically on Zen, its broad treatment does include those aspects of Mahayana that Fowler identifies as important to Zen, as well as making occasional references to Zen specifically, and now and then quoting Zen thinkers in his explication of Buddhist thought.14 Burton’s remarks may therefore helpfully supplement Fowler’s description. Burton notes that “Buddhist sources claim that Awakened people achieve knowledge of the three characteristics…of existence and thus put an end to their cravings and suffering. These three characteristics,” he adds, “are impermanence…, suffering…, and not-self.”15 Emptiness seems to include both impermanence and not-self, and Burton treats these two characteristics together, noting their “strong connection.” Burton summarizes the connection as follows:

Buddhism often claims that all things are analysable without remainder into the five…aggregates…, namely, material form…, sensations or feelings…, perceptions and discrimination of ideas…, volitions and dispositions…, and states of consciousness….Inanimate things…are analysable into form alone….Forms, sensations or feelings, perceptions and discrimination of ideas, volitions and dispositions as well as states of consciousness are ephemeral. The impermanence of the aggregates, coupled with the Buddhist contention that things are reducible to these aggregates, means that no thing has a permanent, abiding essence….[Thus, for example,] “I” and “me” are simply names or conventional designations for what is actually an ever-changing stream of mental and physical events.16

This passage, though it adds detail to one’s understanding of emptiness (non-self and impermanence), still does not make explicit how emptiness implies non-duality and the ineffability of ultimate reality. Japanese philosopher Nishitani Keiji (1900-1990), a thinker for whose work Buddhism and Zen were of central importance,17 does make the connection explicit, more or less. In part quoting and in part summarizing Nishitani, Heinrich Dumoulin writes:

“ Emptiness…is emptiness only when it empties itself even of the standpoint that represents it as some ‘thing’ that is emptiness.” Emptiness is tied neither to being nor non-being; it leads into a realm that is deeper than the abyss of Western nihilism, namely, into the bottomless depth of sameness; here all things exist in absolute self-identity on the plane of equality, “an absolute self-identity in which the one and the other are yet truly themselves, at once absolutely broken apart and absolutely joined together….an absolute two and at the same time an absolute one .”18

Admittedly, the final quotation of Nishitani in the above passage confusingly identifies both the empty self-other duality and the all-is-one non-duality transcending it as “absolute.” Setting that closing paradox aside, however, the picture one gets is one where all entities in conventional (commonsense, observable) reality (assuming they do exist19) are empty (impermanent/ contingent and so lacking inherent identity), which implies that all dualities (self/other, good/evil, real/unreal, A/not-A) are likewise empty, because they depend upon discrete identities that can be compared one to another, and all such discrete identities are empty.

Nagarjuna, a Mahayana teacher in the Madhyamaka tradition whose importance to Zen was earlier noted, seems (on the reading adopted by this paper20) to “suggest an ontologically positive understanding of nirvana,” one where “nirvana or emptiness is not simply the absence of inherent existence of entities….[but] an inherently existing domain quite beyond all dualities and unamenable to any conceptualization.”21 Since all communication depends upon duality (if A and not-A cannot be distinguished, then any term can mean anything), this posited reality would necessarily be impossible to speak about (though one is very tempted to give it a label, such as “pure potentiality”). In Acintyastava 37-9, Nagarjuna speaks of this reality as “neither existing nor non-existing” and as “not one, not many, not both [one and many], and not neither [one nor many]” and as “that which does not appear and is not concealed.”22 Similar statements abound in both such pre-Zen Mahayana sources and in Zen sources ancient and modern, serving as both the justification (or motivation) for Zen practice, and as tools of that practice.

Zen Practice: Remaking Minds for A Reality Beyond Reason and Expression^


A recurrent motif in science fiction has human protagonists defeating a computer villain by presenting it with a paradox that its purely rational, calculating mind finds impossible to solve. Like a prideful human intent on proving itself equal to an impossible task, the hapless computer proceeds to dedicate all its resources to the paradox; in the end, inevitably, it ceases to function. In the case of computers, of course, this maneuver only succeeds because oh-so-human programmers fail to foresee the possibility and code the appropriate error handling. In the case of humans, the demands of a properly functioning rational mind, foremost among them being acceptance of creaturely status in an intractably objective reality not of one’s own making, can be so disagreeable that deactivating one’s divinely-created error handling becomes a priority.23 But how might this be done?

Zen’s two most important means of accomplishing this task are objectless zazen (silent seated meditation not thinking about anything), and koan contemplation (intense and sustained reflection upon questions the rational mind cannot solve,24 sometimes during zazen, a koan replacing the “not anything” of objectless zazen). Objectless zazen, if successful, has the effect of powering-down the rational mind, thereby allowing acceptance of, and the feeling that one has directly experienced, a reality where all distinctions, including (mercifully) the Creator-creature distinction, fall away. Koan contemplation, if successful, causes the rational mind to break down much as the computer villain above broke down, again bringing about an altered state of consciousness where a new (true, absolute, ultimate) reality can not only be accepted, but experienced. Though objectless zazen is more characteristic of the Soto school (one of two extant traditions of Zen practice), and koans of the Rinzai school (the other of the two), koans are practiced in both schools and both schools engage in the seated meditation of zazen.25 In the following discussion, Zen’s use of koans and zazen will be examined, followed by a look at a sample account of an “enlightenment experience” resulting from Zen practice.


Dumoulin provides an excellent summary of koan usage in Zen practice. He writes:

The procedure is more or less as follows: The master gives the student a koan to think about, resolve, and then report back on to the master. Concentration intensifies as the student first tries to solve the koan intellectually. This initial effort proves impossible, however, for a koan cannot be solved rationally….Concentration and irrationality—these two elements constitute the characteristic psychic situation that engulfs the student wrestling with a koan. As this persistent effort to concentrate intellectually becomes unbearable, anxiety sets in. The entirety of one’s consciousness and psychic life is now filled with one thought….Such assaults on the fortress of human reason inevitably give rise to a distrust of all rational perception. This gnawing doubt, combined with the futile search for a way out, creates a state of extreme and intense yearning for deliverance.26

Though koans tend to be given in a certain order, practitioners progressing through sets ranked in terms of difficulty or type,27 any sample koan will serve the purposes of this paper. The following koan was written by Fu Daishi concerning “the undifferentiated realm” (emptiness, nirvana, etc.): “Empty-handed, yet holding a hoe; / Walking, yet riding a water buffalo.”28 Put more abstractly, “A, yet not-A; / B, yet not-B.” Asking a student to treat this statement as a truth to be embraced is indeed “an assault on…reason,” since it twice violates the law of non-contradiction, also known as the law or principle of contradiction, and so is in fact meaningless.29 As evident from Kapleau’s earlier-quoted usage of one Buddhist belief as a means of promoting “the doubt sensation,” sources that are not “officially” koans may be used as koans (not called koans, but serving the same function). One source ready to function as a koan might be Fowler’s earlier-quoted description of Nagarjuna’s teaching: “ truth cannot be found in something that is, or something that is not[; rather,] it can only be found in the middle point between these two dualities.” Putting this more abstractly yields, “truth cannot be found in A, nor in not-A, but only in the middle point between A and not-A,” a blatant and willful violation of the law or principle of excluded middle.30 Since A plus not-A equals ALL, statements that deny the law of excluded middle don’t actually mean anything. At best, they are emotionally stimulating, evoking certain feelings based either upon their resemblance to meaningful statements or upon the tonal qualities of the words in them. The motivation to be “liberated” from mundane reality must indeed be great to give birth to such intentional anti-rationalism.31

Objectless zazen, silent and seated meditation with no object, is another means Zen employs to prepare human minds to experience an ineffable reality beyond reason and description. In this practice, one simply assumes a proper meditation pose and remains silent while refusing to focus on any thought that happens to arise in one’s mind. One does not attempt to “think of nothing,” since such effort would likely be counter-productive, since one would then be persistently thinking of not thinking. Through such practice, one finds that the mind becomes “clear, empty” for longer and longer periods of zazen.32 Once one can thus “find perfect composure” by “forget[ing] everything,” so that in one’s mind there is not “any trace or shadow of thinking,” one will find one’s mind “wide and clear enough to see and feel things as they are without effort.”33 Such mind-emptying meditation, whatever its effects might be, differs markedly from such meditation and stillness as one finds commended in Scripture, where God, God’s words, and God’s works are invariably the focus (e.g., Psalms 1.2; 46.10; 63.6; 77.12; 119.15, 23, 48, 78; 143.148).

So, what effect do these practices have? When they “work,” how is the practitioner affected? Lit-Sen Cheng, a Zen convert to Christianity, calls Zen “a technique to achieve ‘a mental breakdown.’”34 Is he right? One enlightenment account provided by Kapleau might be taken to confirm Cheng’s assertion.35 The person describing the experience is a 47 year old Japanese executive writing in 1953, identified only as “Mr. K. Y.” He writes:

At midnight I abruptly awakened. At first my mind was foggy, then suddenly [a] quotation [from Dogen’s Shobogenzo ] flashed into my consciousness: “I came to realize clearly that Mind is no other than mountains, rivers, and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” And I repeated it. Then all at once I was struck as though by lightning, and the next instant heaven and earth crumbled and disappeared. Instantaneously, like surging waves, a tremendous delight welled up in me, a veritable hurricane of delight, as I laughed loudly and wildly: “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! There’s no reasoning here, no reasoning at all! Ha, ha ha!” The empty sky split in two, then opened its enormous mouth and began to laugh uproariously: “Ha, ha, ha!” Later one of the members of my family told me that my laughter had sounded inhuman.36

Need one even offer commentary? Indeed, there is no reasoning here. Prior to the passage quoted, Mr. K. Y. notes that seven years of zazen preceded this experience,37 an experience in which, one notes, Dogen’s statement, though not “officially” a koan, clearly functions as one. Mr. K. Y.’s experience thus seems a good illustration of what successful application of these Zen practices can accomplish.

Zen: Review And Assessment^

From an unbelieving starting point, which is certainly the starting point of Buddhism in general and of Zen in particular, the possibility that reality is ultimately irrational seems hard to reject with finality. Short-lived humans’ observations, after all, sample an insignificant portion of the assumed vastness of time and space. Why assume humans’ very limited observations representative of reality as a whole? If humans and the reality they inhabit are not created by a truth-valuing, non-deceiving God such as Scripture proclaims, why trust that the reality one perceives is “really real”? On this basis, is not the hypothesis that all that exists simply arises from an impersonal pure-potentiality, to which it again returns, just as cogent as any other hypothesis? In fact, since belief in a rationally scrutable reality exposes one to a variety of uncomfortable theistic and Christian arguments, one’s vested interest may make the idea that reality is ultimately irrational and inscrutable seem more cogent. Of course, as has often been said, no human can really live in accord with such ideas while still retaining some degree of sanity. Zen’s solution has been to identify that reality that is rationally scrutable as not in fact ultimate, granting that it must be coped with and lived in but disallowing use of what one finds in it to prove anything about ultimate reality (about which one can, in fact, neither prove not say anything), adding to this stance practices that quell the rational mind’s objections to such a view of things. Clearly, humans, though in rebellion against and fleeing from God, have lost none of the creativity granted them by their Creator.

Given the clearly non-Christian character and willful irrationality of Zen (i.e., of those aspects of Zen that are the focus of this paper), one might expect unanimous opposition to it among professing Christians. One’s expectation in this case would err. Though by no means endorsing Zen beliefs and practices in their totality, some professing Christians have tried to find common ground with Zen, even taking part themselves in koan contemplation and objectless zazen. One prominent Zen-friendly figure is the late Roman Catholic monk and highly popular writer on mystical themes, Thomas Merton, who finds points of agreement between Christian mysticism and Zen.38 (Merton was, of course, a Roman Catholic; the popularity and influence of his writings, however, is not restricted to Roman Catholics.) Though finding common ground with unbelievers is worthwhile, joining them in activities that run counter to sound Christian practice is badly misguided, sure to benefit neither the unbelievers nor the Christians. Robert L. Reymond, with some quoted help from John F. Frame, makes clear the issue at stake:

…as the God of truth, for him the laws of logic, which are the laws of truth, are intrinsically valid because they are intrinsic to his nature. I would even contend, with John R. Frame, that “logic is an attribute of God.”39

Those who worship the God of Scripture, the God who created the world through verbalization (Gen 1), who assigned His first image-bearer the task of naming things (Gen 2.20), and whose Law seems intended as a tool for training His people in the making of fine distinctions (consider Lev 19.19), dare not indulge irrationality. Nor dare they pretend that Zen’s own indulging of such is harmless or morally neutral. As murder and theft are sins against the God whose moral nature finds expression in the moral tenets of Biblical Law, so Zen’s willful irrationality is a sin against the God whose rational nature finds expression in the laws of logic evident to every properly functioning human mind that reflects on the necessary properties of effective, truth-finding thought.


This paper has surveyed central metaphysical (and resulting epistemological) tenets of Zen philosophy and two core activities of Zen practice, objectless seated meditation (zazen) and koan contemplation. Both Zen philosophy and the practices based upon it have been found characterized by a willful irrationality that seems aimed at preventing Zen adherents from perceiving God’s witness to Himself through rationally ordered creation and reason-capable human minds.

Notes ^

1Merv Fowler, Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices (Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2005), 5.

2Philip Kapleau, Zen: Merging of East and West (New York: Anchor, 1989), 106. Thomas Cleary identifies this “’doubt feeling’ ( gijo )” as involving “looking into the innermost self” and as “frustrating linear thought” (Dogen, Shobogenzo, Zen Essays , trans. [with book and essay introductions by] Thomas F. Cleary [Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986], 8, 10).

3Scripture quotation are from the Authorized (King James) Version, unless otherwise noted.

4Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki writes: “If you want to understand Buddhism…., you must give up the idea of substantiality or existence….Of course the bird we see or hear exists. It exists, but what I mean by that may not be exactly what you mean. The Buddhist understanding of life includes both existence and non-existence. The bird both exists and does not exist at the same time” (Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind , ed. Trudy Dixon [New York: Weatherhill, 1970]). (Soto is one of two extant Zen traditions, the other being Rinzai. Though their practical emphases differ, as will be seen, their underlying philosophies are largely identical.)

5Fowler, Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices, 4.

6Ibid. , 71; Heinrich Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism In The 20th Century , trans. Joseph O’Leary, (New York: Weatherhill, 1992), 12-14; Idem., Zen Buddhism: A History, 2 vols., vol. 1: India and China , trans. James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter (New York: Macmillan, 1988), 252.

7As Fowler notes, “no school of Buddhism has produced more texts than Zen!” (Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices, 70). That Zen practices have a definite philosophical grounding does not imply that every Zen practitioner, nor even every Zen teacher, will be aware of this grounding, nor (perhaps) even admit that this grounding matters.

8Fowler, Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices, 72, 68-9. Throughout this paper, transliterations quoted have been simplified (or Americanized), replacing ā with a, ō with o , and so on. This has also been done with foreign transliterations in the main text and in the bibliography.

9In this reckoning, Bodhidharma, who is (in legend, at any rate) credited with introducing Zen (Ch’an) to China in the 6th century A.D., is the 28th Mahayana patriarch (Charles H. Hambrick, “Zen Buddhism,” in Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion [Washington, D.C.: Corpus Publications, 1979], vol. O-Z: 3803.)

10Fowler, Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices , 73.

11Ibid., 72-3.

12Ibid., 73.

13David Burton, Buddhism, Knowledge and Liberation: A Philosophical Analysis of Suffering (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004).

14Ibid., 12, e.g.

15Ibid. , 11.

16Ibid. , 12.

17Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism In The 20th , 42.


1818: Ibid. , 50, quoting and summarizing Nishitani Keiji, The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism , trans. Graham Parkes with Setsuro Aihara (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990.)

19Whether those things that are empty actually exist, though impermanently, and whether there is a permanent but ineffable “real” reality behind the empty entities of conventional reality, is debated. The writer believes the idea that empty entities do exist, albeit in a temporary and changing fashion, joined to the idea that there exists a permanent but ineffable reality behind these entities (and which is their source), best comports with his Zen sources. For detailed discussion of the various possibilities and arguments for and against each, see: Burton, Buddhism, Knowledge and Liberation , 79-162. Sample sources seeming to favor the writer’s perspective are: Dogen, Shobogenzo , 36-7; Suzuki, Zen Mind, 106 (“We say true existence comes from emptiness and goes back again to emptiness”); and Kapleau, Zen: Merging , 64.

20See note 19.

21Burton, Buddhism, Knowledge and Liberation, 145. Though Burton’s discussion extends beyond the bounds of Mahayana Buddhism, his primary focus is upon the Madhyamaka and Yogacara schools, early Mahayana traditions beginning in India. Whereas the Madhyamaka placed greatest emphasis on wisdom (prajna, knowledge/awareness/experience of reality-as-it-is), the Yogacara most emphasized meditation (dhyana) (Fowler, Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices, 70). Both these schools relied centrally upon (and sought to interpret and apply) the Prajnaparamita (“perfection of wisdom”) literature, a source also central to Zen philosophy (Ibid., 70-1).

22Trans. C. Lindtner, quoted in Burton, Buddhism, Knowledge and Liberation, 145. The writer has altered Lindtner’s second bracketed emendation from “one or many” to “one nor many,” to agree with Nagarjuna’s “neither.”

23As a rule, Scripture does not portray unbelievers as innocently in error. (Even Jesus’ “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” [Luke 23.34] seems more a display of Jesus’ gracious character than an assertion that those who crucified him erred innocently. Compare Acts 2.23.) Rather, those who do not believe are said to “hold [down; i.e., suppress] the truth in unrighteousness” and so to be “without excuse” (Rom 3.18, 20). Christian apologists, one should note, debate whether the truth suppressed is (1) an innate awareness of God or (2) a rational inference from observation of nature available to any properly functioning human mind.

24Provided rejecting the question as nonsense does not count as solving it.

25For confirmation of koan use in the Soto school, for example, see Suzuki, Zen Mind , 76-7. The term zazen, one should note, is also used more broadly for a range of activities informed by Zen principles and aimed at “mindfulness” or “presence in the moment.” “Silent, seated meditation” is the primary, original sense, however.

26Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism: A History, 1:253.

27For a full treatment, see: Ruth Fuller Sasaki, The Zen Koan: Its History and Use in Rinzai Zen (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965).

28Sasaki, The Zen Koan , 48-9. Sasaki provides the technical term for this undifferentiated realm, Dharmakaya (Sanskrit) or hosshin (Japanese), but “undifferentiated realm” or “emptiness” seems sufficient.

29Richard Purtill, “Principle of Contradiction,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy , 2 ed., edited by Robert Audi (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 737; Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason Together: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 16-7. Additional examples of self-contradictory, and so meaningless, statements are the following phrases: “square circle,” “dry water,” and “homosexual marriage.”

30John Corcoran, “Laws of Thought,” in Audi, ed., Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy , 489; Richard Purtill, “Principle of Excluded Middle,” in Audi, ed., Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy , 738; Geisler and Brooks, Come Let Us Reason , 16-7.

31Re: “liberated”. “Liberation” is one of many common synonyms for enlightenment. Additional synonyms include satori , nirvana (also used as a synonym for emptiness), and kensho. Kensho , however, is not an exact synonym, since it emphasizes that aspect of enlightenment that involves seeing into one’s own true nature (Sasaki, The Zen Koan , 41). As that true nature is the same emptiness as the true nature of everything else (though, in the case of sentient beings, it acquires the additional synonyms of Buddha nature, Buddha mind, and Mind), however, the difference in emphasis is barely significant. Given this, the idea that one’s inherent or Buddha nature is characterized by such very non-empty qualities as “compassion” appears strange. The belief seems to be that all sentient beings who achieve awareness of their empty nature, thus realizing that their nature is “pure potentiality” free to be or become anything, will choose to be compassionate, etc. (in dualistic terms, morally good rather than evil). Why this should be the case is unclear, especially given that the enlightened person must realize that the good-evil dualism is empty.

32Suzuki, Zen Mind, 124.


34Lit-Sen Chang, Zen-Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), 147 (or a preceding page), as quoted in The Kingdom of the Cults , rev. and updated ed., by Walter R. Martin; edited by Ravi Zacharias, Jill Martin Rische, and Kevin Rische (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003), 311. In terms of the writer’s reflection in note 31 (q.v.), Chang’s association of Zen with Existentialism seems apt.

35The writer has assumed that his source has Anglicized the ordering of Lit-Sen Cheng’s name, so that Cheng is the family name. In Chinese usage, and presumably in Japanese, the family name is listed first (as seems to have been the case in Dumoulin’s discussion of Nishitani).

36Philip Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment (Boston: Beacon, 1965), 205.


38Thomas Merton, Zen and the Birds of Appetite (New York: New Directions, 1968); Idem., Mystics and Zen Masters (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967).

39Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith , rev. ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 201, closing with quotation from: John F. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), 253.

Selected Bibliography^

Audi, Robert. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Burton, David. Buddhism, Knowledge and Liberation: A Philosophical Analysis of Suffering. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

Chang, Lit-Sen. Zen-Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West. Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969. [Quoted in Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults].

Corcoran, John. “Laws of Thought.” In Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 489.

Dogen. Shobogenzo, Zen Essays. Translated (with book and essay introductions by) Thomas F. Cleary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Dumoulin, Heinrich. Zen Buddhism In The 20th Century. Translated by Joseph O’Leary. New York: Weatherhill, 1992.

__________. Zen Buddhism: A History, 2 volumes, volume 1: India and China. Translated by James W. Heisig and Paul Knitter. New York: Macmillan, 1988.

Fowler, Merv. Zen Buddhism: Beliefs and Practices. Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2005.

Frame, John F. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987. [Quoted in Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith.]

Geisler, Norman L., and Ronald M. Brooks. Come Let Us Reason Together: An Introduction to Logical Thinking. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

Hambrick, Charles H. “Zen Buddhism.” In Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion. Washington, D.C.: Corpus Publications, 1979. Volume O-Z.

Kapleau, Philip. Zen: Merging of East and West. New York: Anchor, 1989.

__________. The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment. Boston: Beacon, 1965.

Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults, revised and updated edition. Edited by Ravi Zacharias, Jill Martin Rische, and Kevin Rische. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2003.

Merton, Thomas. Mystics and Zen Masters. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1967.

__________. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. New York: New Directions, 1968.

Nishitani, Keiji. The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism. Translated by Graham Parkes with Setsuro Aihara (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990.) [Quoted and summarized in Dumoulin, Zen Buddhism In The 20th .]

Purtill, Richard. “Principle of Contradiction.” In Audi, ed., Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 737.

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