In Uruguay, evening has come. A small group of friends listen as silence speaks.
Beloved master, what is the essence of Zen?
It is one of the most significant questions that can be asked. The small word zen contains the whole evolution of religious consciousness. It also represents freedom from religious organizations, from priesthood, from any kind of theology, from God. This small word can bring fire to your being.
First look at the history of the word, because that will help you to understand the essence of it. The word zen is Japanese, but it is not Japanese; it is a Japanese pronunciation of a Chinese word ch’an. And you should remember that Chinese and Japanese are non-alphabetical languages, so pronunciation differs. Even in China, for the same word you will find hundreds of pronunciations – the land is so vast. And it is not alphabetical, it is just a symbol.
That’s why it is very difficult to learn Chinese or Japanese. To be really a master of the Chinese language at least thirty years’ hard work is needed. Being a non-alphabetical language, you have to remember the meanings of at least one million words – that is the minimum – because each word is a separate symbol. In alphabetical languages it is easier because the same alphabet makes different words, but the alphabet remains the same.
In Chinese each word is independent. You have to remember the meaning of the symbol; the language is symbolic, pictorial. But then it is very difficult to keep the same pronunciation. There is no way to keep the same pronunciation because the symbol has no fixed pronunciation. So you will find the same word being pronounced differently in different parts of China.
Japanese people can read Chinese but their pronunciation will be totally different. The difference between Japanese and Chinese is only of pronunciation – the symbols are the same – but the pronunciations are so different that they have to be taken as two different languages.
So it is the Chinese symbol ch’an that the Japanese manage to pronounce as “zen.” But in a strange way it has come very close to the original word. Ch’an is also not Chinese. It came to China with the Buddhist monks some two thousand years ago. Buddhists used the language Pali; their word was jhan. It became in China ch’an. The Pali word jhan comes from the Sanskrit word dhyan, so it has a long history of traveling, taking different shades, meanings.
It is dhyan that we are translating as meditation, pure meditation, just witnessing. There is no question of any certain religion. There is no need for any kind of catechism. You simply don’t need anything as a pre-requisite. Dhyan is complete in itself. It is the beginning and the end of the whole evolution of consciousness – the alpha and the omega.