What is Zen – Osho

What is Zen? Zen is a very extraordinary growth. Rarely does such a possibility become an actuality because many hazards are involved. Many times before the possibility has existed – a certain spiritual happening could have grown and become like Zen, but it was never realized to its totality. Only once in the whole history of human consciousness has a thing like Zen come into being. It is very rare.

So first I would like you to understand what Zen is, because unless you do that these anecdotes won’t be much help. You need to know the complete background. In that background, in that context, these anecdotes become luminous – suddenly you attain to the meaning and the significance of them, otherwise they are separate units. You can enjoy them; sometimes you can laugh at them; they are very poetic; in themselves they are beautiful, unique pieces of art, but just by looking at these anecdotes you will not be able to penetrate into the significance of what Zen is.

So first try to follow me slowly through the growth of Zen – how it happened. Zen was born in India, grew in China, and blossomed in Japan. The whole situation is rare. Why did it happen that it was born in India, but could not grow here and had to seek a different soil? It became a great tree in China, but could not blossom there, it had to again seek a new climate, a different climate – and in Japan it blossomed like a cherry tree, in thousands of flowers. It is not coincidental; it is not accidental; it has deep inner history. I would like to reveal it to you.

India is an introvert country, Japan is extrovert, and China is just in the middle of these two extremes. India and Japan are absolute opposites. So how come the seed was born in India and blossomed in Japan? They are opposites; they have no similarities; they are contradictory. And why did China come just in the middle, to give soil to it?

A seed is introversion. Try to understand the phenomenon of the seed, what a seed is. A seed is outgoing; a seed has really turned upon itself. A seed is an introvert phenomenon, it is centripetal – the energy is moving inwards. That’s why it is a seed, covered and closed from the outer world completely. In fact a seed is the loneliest, most isolated thing in the world. It has no roots in the soil, no branches in the sky; it has no connection with the earth, no connection with the sky. In fact, it has no relationships around it. A seed is an absolute island, isolated, caved in. It does not relate. It has a hard shell around it, there are no windows, no doors; it cannot go out and nothing can come in.

Seed is natural to India. The genius of Indian can produce seeds of tremendous potentiality, but cannot give them soil. India is an introverted consciousness.

India says the outer doesn’t exist and even if it exists it is of the same stuff that dreams are made of. The whole genius of India has been trying to discover how to escape from the outer, how to move to the inner cave of the heart, how to be centered in oneself, and how to come realize that the whole world that exists outside consciousness is just a dream – at the most beautiful, at the worst a nightmare; whether beautiful or ugly, in reality, it is a dream, and one should not bother much about it. One should awake, and forget the whole dream of the outer world.

The whole effort of Buddha, Mahavir, Tilopa, Gorakh, Kabir, their whole effort through the centuries, has been how to escape from the wheel of life and death: how to enclose yourself, how to completely cut yourself from all relationships, how to be unrelated, detached, how to move in and to forget the outer. That’s why Zen was born in India.

Zen means dhyan. Zen is a Japanese change of the word dhyan. Dhyan is the whole effort of Indian consciousness. Dhyan means to be so alone, so into your own being, that not even a single thought exists. In fact, in English, there is no direct translation.

Contemplation is not the word. Contemplation means thinking, reflection. Even meditation is not the word because meditation involves an object to meditate upon; it means something is there. You can meditate on Christ, or you can meditate on the cross. But dhyan means to be so alone that there is nothing to meditate upon. No object, just simple subjectivity exists – consciousness without clouds, a pure sky.

When the word reached China it became ch’an. When ch’an reached Japan, it became Zen. It comes from the same Sanskrit root, dhyan.

India can give birth to dhyan. For millennia the whole Indian consciousness has been travelling on the path of dhyan – how to drop all thinking and how to be rooted in pure consciousness. With Buddha the seed came into existence. Many times before also, before Gautam Buddha, the seed came into existence, but it couldn’t find the right soil so it disappeared. And if the seed is given to the Indian consciousness it will disappear, because the Indian consciousness will move more and more inwards, and the seed will become smaller and smaller and smaller, until a moment comes when it becomes invisible. A centripetal force makes things smaller, smaller, smaller – atomic – until suddenly they disappear. Many times before Gautam Buddha the seed was born – Gautam Buddha was not the first to meditate and to become a dhyani, to become a great meditator. In fact he is one of the last of a long series. He himself remembers twenty-four Buddha’s before him. Then there were twenty-four Jaina Teerthankaras and they all were meditators. They did nothing else, they simply meditated, meditated, meditated, and came to a point where only they were, and everything else disappeared, evaporated.

The seed was born with Parasnath, with Mahavir, Neminath, and others, but then it remained with the Indian consciousness. The Indian consciousness can give birth to a seed, but cannot become the right soil for it. It goes on working in the same direction and the seed becomes smaller and smaller, molecular, atomic and disappears. That’s how it happened with the Upanishads; that’s how it happened with the Vedas; that’s how it happened with Mahavir and all others.

With Buddha it was also going to happen. Bodhidharma saved him. If the seed had been left with the Indian consciousness, it would have dissolved. It would never have sprouted, because a different type of soil is needed for sprouting – a very balanced soil. Introversion is a very deep imbalance, it is an extreme.

Bodhidharma escaped with the seed to China. He did one of the greatest things in the history of consciousness: he found the right soil for the seed that Buddha had given to the world.

Buddha himself is reported to have said: My religion will not exist for more than 500 years; then it will disappear. He was aware that it always happened that way. The Indian consciousness goes on grinding it into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces; then a moment comes when it becomes so small that it becomes invisible. It is simply no longer part of this world; it disappears into the sky.

Bodhidharma’s experiment was great. He looked all around the world and observed deeply for a place where this seed could grow.

China is a very balanced country, not like India, not like Japan. The golden mean is the path there. Confucian ideology is to remain always in the middle: neither be introvert, nor be extrovert; neither think too much of this world, nor too much of that world – just remain in the middle. China has not given birth to a religion, just morality. No religion has been born there; the Chinese consciousness cannot give birth to a religion. It cannot create a seed. All the religions that exist in China have been imported, they have all come from the outside; Buddhism, Hinduism, Mohammedanism, Christianity – they have all come from the outside. China is a good soil but it cannot originate any religion, because to originate a religion one has to move into the inner world. To give birth to a religion one has to be like a feminine body, a womb.

The feminine consciousness is extremely introvert. A woman lives in herself; she has a very small world around her, the most minimum possible. That is why you cannot interest a woman in things of great vastness. No. You cannot talk about Vietnam to her, she doesn’t bother. Vietnam is too far away, too outer. She is concerned with her family, her husband, the child, the dog, the furniture, the radio set, the TV. A very small world is around her, just the minimum. Because she doesn’t have a very big world around it is very difficult for man and woman to talk intelligently – they live in different worlds. A woman is beautiful only when she keeps quiet; the moment she starts talking then stupid things come out of her. She cannot talk intelligently. She cannot be very philosophic; no, that’s not possible. These things are too far away, she doesn’t bother. She lives in the very small circle of her own world, and she is the center. And whatsoever is meaningful is meaningful only in concern to herself – otherwise it is not meaningful. She cannot see why you are bothered about Vietnam. What is the matter with you? You are not related to the Vietnamese at all. Whether there is a war happening or not, it is no concern of yours. And the child is ill and you are bothering about Vietnam! She cannot believe that she is present near you and you are reading the newspaper.

Women live in a different world. A woman is centripetal, introvert. All women are Indian – wherever they are it makes no difference. Man is centrifugal, he goes out. The moment he can find an excuse he will escape from the home. He comes to the home only when he cannot go anywhere else; when all the clubs and hotels are closed, then, what to do? He comes back home. Nowhere to go, he comes home.

A woman is always home-centered, home based. She goes out only when it is absolutely necessary, when she cannot do otherwise. When it has become an absolute necessity she goes out. Otherwise she is home based.

Man is a vagabond, a wanderer. The whole of family life is created by women, not by men. In fact, civilization exists because of woman, not because of man. If he is allowed he will be a wanderer – no home, no civilization. Man is outgoing, woman is in-going; man is extrovert, woman is introvert. Man is always interested in something other than himself, that’s why he looks healthier. Because when you are too concerned with yourself, you become ill. Man is more happy looking.

You will always find women sad and too concerned with themselves. A little headache and they are very concerned, because they live inside – the headache becomes something big, out of proportion. But a man can forget the headache; he has too many other headaches. He creates so many headaches around himself that there is no possibility of coming upon his own headache and making something out of it. It is always so little he can forget about it. A woman is always concerned – something is happening in the leg, something in the hand, something in the back, something in the stomach, always something – because her own consciousness is focused inwards. A man is less pathological, more healthy, more outgoing, more concerned about what is happening to others.

That’s why, in all religions, you will find that if there are five persons present, four will be women, and one a man. And that one man may have only come because of some woman – the wife was going to the temple so he had to go with her. Or, she was going to listen to a talk on religion, so he came with her. In all churches this will be the proportion, in all churches, temples, wherever you go. Even with Buddha this was the proportion, with Mahavir this was the proportion. With Buddha there were fifty thousand sannyasins – forty thousand women and ten thousand men. Why?

Physically man can be healthier; spiritually woman can be healthier, because their concerns are different. When you are concerned with others you can forget your body, you can be more physically healthy, but religiously you cannot grow so easily. Religious growth needs an inner concern. A woman can grow very, very easily into religion, that path is easy for her, but to grow in politics is difficult. And for a man to grow in religion is difficult. Introversion has its benefits; extroversion has its benefits – and both have their dangers.

India is introvert, a feminine country; it is like a womb, very receptive. But if a child remains in the womb forever and forever and forever, the womb will become the grave. The child has to move out from the mother’s womb otherwise the mother will kill the child inside. He has to escape, to find the world outside, a greater world. The womb may be very comfortable – it is! Scientists say we have not yet been able to create anything more comfortable than the womb. With so much scientific progress we have not made anything more comfortable. The womb is just a heaven. But even the child has to leave that heaven and come outside the mother. Beyond a certain time, the mother can become very dangerous. The womb can kill, because it will then become an imprisonment – good for a time, when the seed is growing, but then the seed has to be transplanted to the outside world.

Bodhidharma looked around, watched the whole world, and found that China had the best soil; it was just a middle ground, not extreme. The climate was not extreme, so the tree could grow easily. And it had very balanced people. Balance is the right soil for something to grow: too cold is bad, too hot is bad. In a balanced climate, neither too cold nor too hot, the tree can grow.

Bodhidharma escaped with the seed, escaped with all that India had produced. Nobody was aware of what he was doing, but it was a great experiment. And he proved right. In China, the tree grew, grew to vast proportions.

But although the tree became vaster and vaster, no flowers grew. Flowers did not come, because flowers need an extrovert country. Just as a seed is introvert, so a flower is extrovert. The seed is moving inwards; the flower is moving outwards. The seed is like male consciousness. The flower opens to the outer world and releases its fragrance to this outside world. Then the fragrance moves on the wings of the wind to the farthest possible corner of the world. To all directions, the flower releases the energy contained in the seed. It is a door. Flowers would like to become butterflies and escape from the tree. In fact, that is what they are doing, in a very subtle way. They are releasing the essence of the tree, the very meaning, the significance of the tree to the world. They are great sharers. A seed is a great miser, confined to itself, and a flower is a great spendthrift.

Japan was needed. Japan is an extrovert country. The very style of life and consciousness is extrovert. Look . . .  in India nobody bothers about the outside world very much: about clothes, houses, the way one lives. Nobody bothers. That is why India has remained so poor. If you are not worried about the outside world, how can you become rich? If there is no concern to improve the outside world you will remain poor. And India is always very serious, always getting ready to escape from life, with Buddha’s talking about how to become perfect drop-outs from existence itself – not only from society, ultimate drop-outs from existence itself! The existence is too boring. For the Indian eye life is just a grey color – nothing interesting in it, everything just boring, a burden. One has to carry it somehow, because of past karmas. Even if an Indian falls in love he says it is because of past karmas, one has to pass through it. Even love is like a burden one has to drag.

India seems to be leaning more towards death than life. An introvert has to lean towards death. That’s why India has evolved all the techniques how to die perfectly, of how to die so perfectly that you are not born again. Death is the goal, not life. Life is for fools, death is for those who are wise. Howsoever beautiful a Buddha, a Mahavir may be, you will find them closed; around them a great aura of indifference exists. Whatsoever is happening, they are not concerned at all. Whether it happens this way or that way makes no difference; whether the world goes on living or dies, it makes no difference . . . a tremendous indifference. In this indifference flowering is not possible; in this inner-confined state, flowering is impossible.

Japan is totally different. With the Japanese consciousness it is as if the inner doesn’t exist, only the outer is meaningful. Look at Japanese dresses. All the colors of flowers and rainbows – as if the outer is very meaningful. Look at an Indian when he is eating, and look at the Japanese. Look at an Indian when he takes his tea – and the Japanese.

Japanese create a celebration out of simple things. Taking tea, he makes it a celebration. It becomes an art. The outside is very important; clothes are very important, relationships are very important. You cannot find more out-going people in the world than the Japanese – always smiling and looking happy. For the Indian they will look shallow; they will not look serious. Indians are the introvert people and the Japanese are the extrovert: they are opposites.

Japanese is always moving in society. The whole Japanese culture is concerned with how to create a beautiful society, how to create beautiful relationships – in everything, in every minute thing – how to give them significance. Their houses are so beautiful. Even a poor man’s house has a beauty of its own; it is artistic, it has its own uniqueness.

It may not be very rich, but still it is rich in a certain sense – because of the beauty, the arrangement, the mind that has been brought to every small, tiny detail: where the window should be, what type of curtain should be used, how the moon should be invited from the window, from where. Very small things, but every detail is important.

With the Indian nothing matters. If you go to an Indian temple, it is without any windows; there is nothing, no hygiene, no concern with air, ventilation – nothing. Even temples are ugly, and anything goes –dirt or dust, nobody bothers. Just in front of the temple you will find cows sitting, dogs fighting, people praying. Nobody bothers. No sense of the outer, they are not at all concerned with the outer.

Japan is very concerned with the outer – just at the other extreme. Japan was the right country. And the whole tree of Zen was transplanted in Japan, and there it blossomed, in thousands of colors. It flowered.

This is how it has to happen again. I am again talking about Zen. It has to come back to India because the tree has flowered, and the flowers have fallen and Japan cannot create the seed. Japan cannot create the seed: it is not an introvert country. So everything has become an outer ritual now. Zen is dead in Japan. It did flower in the past, but now, if by reading in books – reading D. T. Suzuki and others – if you go to Japan in search of Zen, you will come back empty-handed. Now Zen is here; in Japan it has disappeared. The country could help it to flower, but now the flowers have disappeared, fallen to the earth, and nothing is there any more. There are rituals – the Japanese are very ritualistic – rituals exist. Everything in Zen monasteries is still continued the same way, as if the inner spirit is still there, but the inner shrine is vacant and empty. The master of the house has moved. The God is there no more – just empty ritual. And they are extrovert people, they will continue the ritual. Every morning they will get up at five – there will be a gong – they will move to the tea-room, and they will take their tea; they will move to their meditation hall, and they will sit with closed eyes. Everything will be followed exactly as if the spirit is there, but it has disappeared. There are monasteries, there are thousands of monks, but the tree has flowered and seeds cannot be created there.

Hence, I am talking so much about Zen here –because, again, only India can create the seed. The whole world exists in a deep unity, in a harmony – in India the seed can again be given birth. But now many things have changed around the world. China is no longer a possibility, because it has itself become an extrovert country. It has become communistic: now matter is more important than the spirit. And now it is closed for new waves of consciousness.

To me, if any country can in the future become again the soil, it is England.

You will be surprised, because you may think it is America. No. Now the most balanced country in the world is England, just as in the ancient days it was China. The seed has to be taken to England and planted there; it will not flower there, but it will become a big tree. English consciousness – conservative, always following the middle way, the liberal mind, never moving to the extremes, just remaining in the middle – will be helpful. That is why I am allowing more and more English people to settle around me. It is not only for visa reasons! Because once the seed is ready, I would like them to take it to England. And from England it can go to America, and it will have flowering there, because America is the most extrovert country right now.

I tell you that Zen is a rare phenomenon, because only if all these situations are fulfilled can such a thing happen.


From The Grass Grows by Itself, Discourse #1

Copyright© OSHO International Foundation

An MP3 audio file of this discourse can be downloaded from Osho.com  or you can read the entire book online at the Osho Library.

Many of Osho’s books are available in the U.S. online from Amazon.com and Viha Osho Book Distributors. In India they are available from Amazon.in and Oshoworld.com.

3 thoughts on “What is Zen – Osho”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.