The third possibility, which has been accepted by all religions, is that man is not just matter or just mind; he is also a soul. Matter is his outer expression, soul is his inner expression, and mind functions as a bridge between the two. On the third path there is a possibility of a life beyond death. The people who have accepted it have created on this foundation the idea of reincarnation: birth after birth, one changes houses but the essential soul remains.
Zen has a fourth standpoint. Man is not matter, although he is covered with matter. He is not mind, although he is covered with mind. Nor is he an individual soul. He is a pure nothingness. Man, from this fourth standpoint, which is the standpoint of Zen, is almost like an onion. You go on peeling it, one layer after another layer, hoping that you are going to find something. Finally, when you have peeled all the layers off, your hands are full of emptiness; nothing is left. The onion was only layers and layers and layers and layers. Behind those layers was emptiness, nothingness, which will not be visible to the eyes, which will not be tangible to the hands.
Zen has taken the ultimate standpoint about man, you cannot go beyond that. Here ends the whole journey, the pilgrimage of the seeker.
Zen wants you not to stop at matter. Respect it, it serves you; care for it, it cares for you. You are not the mind – don’t make it a master. It is a good servant – use it. Use it so that you can reach beyond it. It is a ladder to go beyond, but don’t get caught up with it.
The “soul” is simply a consolation to people, because if you say to them that meditation will end up in nothingness…In a million, perhaps one person will become interested in meditation. And if you tell them, “All your effort will come to a vast nothingness,” you will frighten them. You will create a question in their minds: “Then what is the purpose? We are – at least, we are. Doing meditation, we will not be.” It is going to be the ultimate death. Yes.
Gautam Buddha was continually asked, “Why do people go on coming to you when you offer nothing but nothingness?”
And Buddha said many times, “Nothingness is not just no-thing-ness. It has its own universality. It is becoming as vast as the whole universe, unlimited. Your personality is too small.”
The people who are afraid of nothingness, of dissolving not only their personality but their individuality too, remain with the third standpoint.
The third is very consoling. At least it gives you something to hang on to. Zen does not give you anything; it simply takes away all the layers of the onion and then says to you, “Look, this is you – just pure nothingness.”
But the purity of it is so overwhelming that you are not, but your laughter is. You are not, but your joy is. It has become cosmic. You are not, but your ecstasy is, and now it is not confined to a small area of your personality or individuality; now the whole of existence is ecstatic. The birds flying and the flowers opening and the clouds showering – everything is happening in the deep nothingness of your realization of the cosmic emptiness as the source of all things.