Chapter 1: Join the Farthest Star
In Japanese they have a special word for it. They call it konomama or sonomama - “Thisness” of existence. This - capital “This” - is it. This isness of life is God. It is not that God is, but the very isness is divine: the isness of a tree, the isness of a rock, the isness of a man, the isness of a woman, the isness of a child. And that isness is an undefined phenomenon, undefinable. You can dissolve into it, you can merge into it, you can taste it. “How wondrous. How mysterious.”
But you cannot define it, you cannot pinpoint it logically, you cannot formulate it into clear-cut concepts. Concepts kill it. Then it is the isness no more. Then it is a mind-construction. The word “God” is not God, the concept “God” is not God. Neither is the concept “love” love nor is the word “food” food. Zen says a very simple thing. It says: remember that the menu is not the food. And don’t start eating the menu. That’s what people have been doing down the centuries: eating the menu.
And of course, if they are undernourished, if they are not flowing, if they are not vital, if they are not living totally, it is natural, it is predictable. They have not lived on real food. They have been talking too much about food and they have completely forgotten what food is. God has to be eaten, God has to be tasted, God has to be lived - not argued about.
The process of “about” is theology. And that “about” goes round and round, it never comes to the real thing. It is a vicious circle. Logic is a vicious circle. And Zen makes every effort to bring you out of that vicious circle.
How is logic a vicious circle? The premise already has the conclusion in it. The conclusion is not going to be something new, it is contained in the premise. And then in the conclusion the premise is contained. It is like a seed: the tree is contained in the seed and then the tree will give birth to many more seeds and in those seeds trees will be contained. It is a vicious circle: seed, tree, seed. It goes on. Or, egg, hen, egg, hen, egg.it goes on ad infinitum. It is a circle.
To break out of this circle is what Zen is all about - not to go on moving in your mind through words and concepts but to drop into existence itself.
A great Zen master, Nan-in, was cutting a tree in the forest. And a professor of a university came to see him. Naturally the professor thought that this woodcutter must know where Nan-in lived in the hills, so he inquired. The woodcutter took his ax in his hand and said, “I had to pay very much for it.”
The professor had not inquired about his ax. He was inquiring where Nan-in lived; he was inquiring if he would be in the temple if he went there. And Nan-in raised the ax and said, “Look, I had to pay very much for it.” The professor felt a little puzzled and before he could escape, Nan-in came even closer and put his ax just on the head of the professor. The professor started trembling and Nan-in said, “It is really sharp.” And the professor escaped.
Later on, when he reached the temple he came to know that the woodcutter was nobody but Nan-in himself. Then he inquired, “Is he mad?”