Zen is not a Theology – Osho

Zen is not a theology, it is a religion – and religion without a theology is a unique phenomenon. All other religions exist around the concept of God. They have theologies. They are God-centric not man-centric; man is not the end, God is the end. But not so for Zen. For Zen, man is the goal, man is the end unto himself God is not something above humanity, God is something hidden within humanity. Man is carrying God in himself as a potentiality.

So there is no concept of God in Zen. If you want you can say that it is not even a religion – because how can there be a religion without the concept of God? Certainly those who have been brought up as Christians, Mohammedans, Hindus, Jews, cannot conceive of what sort of religion Zen is. If there is no God then it becomes atheism. It is not. It is theism to the very core – but without a God.

This is the first fundamental to be understood. Let it sink deep within you, then things will become clear.

Zen says that God is not extrinsic to religion, it is intrinsic. It is not there, it is here. In fact there is no ‘there’ for Zen, all is here. And God is not then, God is now – and there is no other time. There is no other space, no other time. This moment is all. In this moment the whole existence converges, in this moment all is available. If you cannot see it that does not mean that it is not available – it simply means you don’t have the vision to see it. God has not to be searched for, you have only to open your eyes. God is already the case.

Prayer is irrelevant in Zen – to whom to pray? There is no God sitting there somewhere in the heavens and controlling life, existence. There is no controller. Life is moving in a harmony on its own accord. There is nobody outside it giving it commandments. When there is an outside authority, it creates a kind of slavery . . . a Christian becomes a slave, the same happens to a Mohammedan. When God is there commanding, you can be at the most a servant or a slave. You lose all dignity. Not so with Zen. Zen gives you tremendous dignity. There is no authority anywhere.

Freedom is utter and ultimate.

Had Friederich Nietzsche known anything about Zen he might have turned into a mystic rather than going mad. He had stumbled upon a great fact. He said, “There is no God. God is dead – and man is free.” But basically he was brought up in the world of the Jews and the Christians, a very narrow world, very much confined in concepts. He stumbled upon a great truth: “There is no God. God is dead, hence man is free.”  He stumbled upon the dignity of freedom, but it was too much. For his mind it was too much. He went mad, he went berserk. Had he known anything like Zen he would have turned into a mystic – there was no need to go mad.

One can be religious without a God. In fact, how can one be religious with a God? That is the question Zen asks, a very disturbing question. How can a man be religious with a God? – Because God will destroy your freedom, God will dominate you. You can look into the Old Testament. God says, ‘I am a very jealous God and I cannot tolerate any other God. Those who are not with me are against me. And I am a very violent and cruel God and I will punish you and you will be thrown into eternal hell fire. How can man be religious with such a God? How can you be free and how can you bloom? Without freedom there is no flowering. How can you come to your optimum manifestation when there is a God confining you, condemning you, forcing you this way and that, manipulating you?

Zen says that with God, man will remain a slave; with God, man will remain a worshipper; with God, man will remain in fear. In fear how can you bloom? You will shrink, you will become dry, you will start dying. Zen says that when there is no God there is tremendous freedom, there is no authority in existence. Hence there arises great responsibility. Look . . . if you are dominated by somebody you cannot feel responsible. Authority necessarily creates irresponsibility; authority creates resistance; authority creates reaction, rebellion, in you – you would like to kill God. That’s what Nietzsche means when he says God is dead – it is not that God has committed a suicide, he has been murdered.

He has to be murdered. With him there is no possibility to be free – only without him. But then Nietzsche became very afraid himself. To live without God needs great courage, to live without God needs great meditation, to live without God needs great awareness – that was not there. That’s why I say he stumbled upon the fact, it was not a discovery. He was groping in the dark.

For Zen it is a discovery. It is an established truth: there is no God. Man is responsible for himself and for the world he lives in. If there is suffering, you are responsible; there is nobody else to look to. You cannot throw off your responsibility. If the world is ugly and is in pain, we are responsible –there is nobody else. If we are not growing we cannot throw the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulders. We have to take the responsibility.

When there is no God you are thrown back to yourself. Growth happens. You have to grow. You have to take hold of your life; you have to take the reins in your own hands. Now you are the master. You have to be more alert and more aware because for whatsoever is going to happen you will be responsible. This gives great responsibility. One starts becoming more alert, more aware. One starts living in a totally different way. One becomes more watchful. One becomes a witness.

And when there is no beyond . . . The beyond is within you, there is no beyond beyond you. In Christianity the beyond is beyond; in Zen the beyond is within. So the question is not to raise your eyes towards the sky and pray – that is meaningless, you are praying to an empty sky. The sky is far lower in consciousness than you.

Somebody is praying to a tree . . . Many Hindus go and pray to a tree, many Hindus go to the Ganges and pray to the river, many pray to a stone statue, many pray towards the sky or many pray towards a concept, an idea. The higher is praying towards the lower. Prayer is meaningless.

Zen says: only meditation. It is not that you have to kneel down before somebody. Drop this old habit of slavery. All that is needed is that you have to become quiet and silent and go withinwards to find your centre. That very centre is the centre of existence too. When you have come to your innermost core you have come to the innermost core of existence itself. That’s what God is in Zen. But they don’t call it God. It is good that they don’t call it God.

So the first thing to remember is that Zen is not a theology, it is a religion – and that too with a tremendous difference. It is not a religion like Islam. There are three fundamentals in Islam: one God, one book, and one prophet. Zen has no God, no book, no prophet. The whole existence is God’s prophecy; the whole existence is his message.

And remember, God is not separate from this message either. This message itself is divine. There is no messenger – all that nonsense has been completely dropped by Zen. Theology arises with one book. It needs a Bible, it needs a holy Koran. It needs a book which pretends to be holy, it needs a book which tries to say that it is special – that no other book is like this, this is a Godsend, a gospel.

Zen says everything is divine so how can anything be special? All is special. Nothing is nonspecial so nothing can be special. Each leaf of every tree and each pebble on every shore is special, unique, holy. It is not that the Koran is holy, not that the Bible is holy. When a lover writes a letter to his beloved that letter is holy.

Zen brings holiness to ordinary life.

A great Zen Master, Bokoju, used to say, “How wondrous this. How mysterious. I carry fuel, I draw water.”

“How wondrous this. How mysterious.” Carrying fuel, drawing water from the well and he says, “How mysterious.” This is the Zen spirit. It transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. It transforms the profane into the sacred. It drops the division between the world and the divine.

That’s why I say it is not a theology. It is pure religion. Theology contaminates religion.There is no difference between a Mohammedan and a Christian and a Hindu as far as religion is concerned but there is great difference as far as theology is concerned. They have different theologies. People have been fighting because of theology.

Religion is one; theologies are many. Theology means the philosophy about God, the logic about God. It is all meaningless because there is no way to prove God – there is no way to disprove either. Argumentation is just irrelevant. Yes, one can experience but one cannot prove – and that’s what theology goes on doing. And theology goes on doing such stupid things – logic chopping. When you look at it from a distance you will laugh. It is so ridiculous.

In the Middle Ages, Christian theologians were very much concerned, very much troubled, puzzled about problems which will not look like problems to you. For example, how many angels can stand on the point of a needle? Books have been written about it – great argumentation.

Mulla Nasrudin, the owner of two lovebirds, sent for a veterinarian. “I’m worried about my birds,” he announced. “They haven’t gone potty all week.”

The doctor looked inside the cage and asked, “Do you always line this thing with maps of the earth?”

“No,” answered Mulla Nasrudin, “I put that in last Saturday when I was out of newspapers.”

“That explains it!” replied the vet. “Love-birds are very sensitive creatures. They’re holding back because they figure this planet earth has taken all the crap it can stand!”

Theology is crap. And because of theology, religion becomes poisoned. A really religious person has no theology. Yes, he has got the experience, he has the truth, he has that luminosity, but he has no theology. But theology has been of great help to scholars, pundits, the so-called learned people. It has been of great interest to the priests, to the popes, to the shankarcharyas. It has been of great benefit to them. Their whole business depends on it.

Zen cuts the very root. It destroys the very business of the priest. And that is one of the ugliest businesses in the world because it depends on a very great deception. The priest has not known and he goes on preaching; the theologian has not known but he goes on spinning theories. He is as ignorant as anybody else – maybe even more so. But his ignorance has become very, very articulate. His ignorance is very decorated – decorated with scriptures, decorated with theories; decorated so cunningly and cleverly that it is very difficult to detect the flaw. Theology has not been of any help to humanity but certainly it has helped many people: the priests. They have been able to exploit humanity in the name of foolish theories.

Two psychiatrists meeting in a busy restaurant got to talking and one said he was treating a rather interesting case of schizophrenia.

At that the other analyst balked. “What’s so interesting about that? Split-personality cases are rather common, I would say.” “This case is interesting,” responded his colleague. “They both pay!”

That’s how theologians have lived. Theology is politics. It divides people. And if you can divide people you can rule them.

Zen looks at humanity with undivided vision – it does not divide. It has a total look. That’s why I say that Zen is the religion of the future. Humanity is growing slowly towards that awareness where theology will be dropped and religion will be accepted purely as an experience.

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 nor is the word 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, Nanin, 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 Nanin lived in the hills, so he enquired. The woodcutter took his axe in his hand and said, “I had to pay very much for it.”

The professor had not enquired about his axe. He was enquiring where Nanin lived; he was enquiring if he would be in the temple if he went there. And Nanin raised the axe and said, “Look, I had to pay very much for it.” The professor felt a little puzzled and before he could escape, Nanin came even closer and put his axe just on the head of the professor. The professor started trembling and Nanin 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 Nanin himself. Then he enquired, “Is he mad?”

“No,” the disciple said. “You had asked if Nanin was in and he was saying yes. He was showing his inness and isness. That moment he was a woodcutter; that moment, axe in his hand, he was totally absorbed in the sharpness of the axe. He was that sharpness in that moment. He was saying ‘I am in’ by being so immediate, by being so totally in the present. You missed the point. He was showing you the quality of Zen.”

Zen is non-conceptual, non-intellectual. It is the only religion in the world which preaches immediacy; moment to moment immediacy; to be present in the moment, no past, no future.

But people have lived with theologies. And those theologies keep them childish, they don’t allow them to grow. You cannot grow by being confined in a theology, by being a Christian or a Hindu or a Mohammedan or even a Buddhist. You cannot grow; you don’t have space enough to grow. You are confined very much, in a very narrow space; you are imprisoned.

A young priest took a hundred thousand dollars from the church safe and lost it on the stock market. Then his beautiful wife left him. In despair he went down to the river and was just about to jump off the bridge when he was stopped by a woman in a black cloak with a wrinkled face and stringy gray hair.

“Don’t jump,” she rasped. “I’m a witch, and I’ll grant you three wishes if you do something for me!”

“I’m beyond help,” he replied.

“Don’t be silly,” she said. ,”Alakazam! The money is back in the church vault. Alakazam! Your wife is home waiting for you with love in her heart. Alakazam! You now have two hundred thousand dollars in the bank!”

“That’s w-w-wonderful,” stuttered the priest. “What do I have to do for you?”

“Spend the night making love to me.”

The thought of sleeping with the toothless old hag was repellent, but certainly worth it, so they retired to a nearby motel. In the morning, the distasteful ordeal over, the priest was dressing to go home when the bat in the bed said, “Say sonny, how old are you?”

“I’m forty-two!” he replied. “Why?”

“Ain’t you a little old to believe in witches?”

That’s what happens. If you believe in God you can believe in a witch, it is the same package. If you can believe in one kind of nonsense, you can believe in all kinds of nonsense. But you never grow. You remain juvenile.

Zen means maturity. Zen means drop all wishes and see what is the case. Don’t bring your dreams into reality. Clean your eyes completely of dreams so that you can see what is the case. That isness is called konomama or sonomama. Kono or sonomama means the isness of a thing – reality in its isness. All ideologies prevent you from seeing. Ideologies are all blindfolds, they obstruct your vision. A Christian cannot see, neither can a Hindu, nor a Mohammedan. Because you are so full of your ideas you go on seeing what you want to see, you go on seeing what is not there, you go on projecting, you go on interpreting, you go on creating a private reality of your own which is not there. This creates a sort of insanity. Out of a hundred of your so-called saints, ninety-nine are insane people.

Zen brings sanity to the world, utter sanity. It drops all ideologies. It says: “Be empty. Look without any idea. Look into the nature of things but with no idea, with no prejudice, with no pre-supposition.” Don’t be preoccupied – that is one of the fundamentals. So theology has to be dropped otherwise you remain preoccupied.

Can you see the point? If you have an idea, there is every possibility that you will find it in reality – because the mind is very, very creative. Of course, that creation will be only in imagination. If you are seeking Christ you may start having visions of Christ, and they will be all imaginary. If you are seeking Krishna you will start seeing Krishna, and they will be all imaginary.

Zen is very down-to-earth. It says that imagination has to be dropped. Imagination comes out of your past. From childhood you have been conditioned for certain ideas. From childhood you have been taken to the church, to the temple, to the mosque; you have been taken to the scholar, to the pundit, to the priest; you have been forced to listen to sermons – all kinds of things have been thrown into your minds. Burdened with all that, don’t come to reality – otherwise you will never come to know what reality is.

Unburden. That unburdening is Zen.

A minister of the Gospel was conducting religious services in an asylum for the insane. His discourse was suddenly interrupted by one of the inmates crying out wildly, “I say, have we got to listen to this tommyrot?”

The minister, surprised and confused, turned to the keeper and said, “Shall I stop speaking?”

The keeper replied, “No, no, keep right on, that won’t happen again, not at least for seven years. That man has only one sane moment every seven years.”

It is really very difficult to be sane in an insane world.

Zen is simple and yet difficult. Simple as far as Zen is concerned – it is the most simple thing, the simplest, because it is a spontaneous thing – but very difficult because of our conditioned minds, because of the insane world in which we live, by which we have been brought up, by which we have been corrupted.

The second thing: Zen is not a philosophy, it is poetry. It does not propose, it simply persuades. It does not argue, it simply sings its own song. It is aesthetic to the very core, it is not ascetic. It does not believe in being arrogant, aggressive, towards reality, it believes in love. It believes that if we participate with reality, reality reveals its secrets to us. It creates a participatory consciousness. It is poetry, it is pure poetry – just as it is pure religion.

Zen is very, very concerned with beauty – less concerned with truth, more concerned with beauty. Why? Because truth is a dry symbol. It is not only dry in itself but people who become too much concerned with truth become dry also. They start dying. Their hearts shrink, their juices flow no more. They become loveless, they become violent, and they start moving more and more in the head.

And Zen is not a head thing, it is a total thing. Not that the head is denied, but it has to be given its right place. It is not given any dominant status. It has to function with the totality. The guts are as important as the head, the feet are as important as the head, the heart is as important as the head. The total should function as an organism. Nobody should be dominated.

Philosophy is head-oriented; poetry is more total. Poetry has more flow to it. Poetry is more concerned about beauty. And beauty is non-violence and beauty is love and beauty is compassion.

The Zen seeker looks into reality to find out the beautiful . . . in the songs of the birds, in the trees, in the dance of a peacock, in the clouds, in the lightning, in the sea, in the sands. It tries to look for the beautiful.

Naturally, to look for the beautiful has a totally different impact. When you are searching for truth you are more male; when you are searching for beauty. you are more female. When you are searching for truth you are more concerned with reason; when you are searching for beauty you have to be more and more concerned with intuition. Zen is feminine. Poetry is feminine. Philosophy is very male, very aggressive. It is a male mind.

Zen is passive – that’s why in Zen, sitting became one of the most important meditations. Just sitting – zazen. Zen people say that if you simply sit doing nothing, things will happen. Things will happen on their own; you need not go after them, you need not seek them, you need not search for them. They will come. You simply sit. If you can sit silently, if you can fall into a tremendous restfulness, if you can ‘unlax’ yourself, if you can drop all tensions and become a silent pool of energy, going nowhere, searching nothing, God starts pouring into you. From everywhere God rushes towards you. Just sitting, doing nothing, the spring comes and the grass grows by itself.

And remember, when Zen says ‘just sitting’ it means just sitting – nothing else, not even a mantra. If you are repeating a mantra you are not just sitting, you are again getting into some tommyrot, again into some mind thing. If you are not doing anything whatsoever. . . . Thoughts are coming, coming; they are going, going – if they come, good; if they don’t come, good. You are not concerned with what is happening, you are simply sitting there. If you feel tired you lie down. If you feel your legs getting tense you spread them. You remain natural. Not even watching. Not making any effort of any kind. That’s what they mean by just sitting. Just sitting it happens.

Zen is the feminine approach and religion is basically feminine. Science is male, philosophy is male – religion is female. All that is beautiful in the world – poetry, painting, dance – has all come from the feminine mind.

It may not have come from women because women have not been free to create yet. Their days are coming. When Zen becomes more and more significant in the world, the feminine mind will have a great upsurge, a great explosion.

Things move in a togetherness. The past has been male-dominated – hence Islam and Christianity and Hinduism. The future is going to be more feminine, more soft, more passive, more relaxed, more aesthetic, more poetic. In that poetic atmosphere Zen will become the most significant thing in the world.

Philosophy is logic; poetry is love. Philosophy dissects, analyses; poetry synthesizes, puts things together. Philosophy is basically destructive; poetry is life-giving. Analysis is the method of philosophy – and it is the method of science, the method of psychoanalysts. Sooner or later psychoanalysis will have to be replaced by the more profound psychosynthesis. Assagioli is far more right than Sigmund Freud because synthesis is closer to truth. The world is one. It is a unity. Nothing is separate. Everything pulsates together. We are joined with each other, interlinked. The whole life is a net. Even the small leaf around this Chuang Tzu auditorium is joined with the farthest star. If something happens to this leaf something is going to happen to that farthest star too. Everything is together, this togetherness. Existence is a family.

Zen says don’t dissect, don’t analyze.

A farmer, who was a witness in a railroad case up in Vermont, was asked to tell in his own way how the accident happened.

“Well, Jake and me was walking down the track and I heard a whistle, and I got off the track and the train went by, and I got back on the track and I didn’t see Jake. But I walked along and pretty soon I seen Jake’s hat, and I walked on and I seen one of Jake’s laigs, and then I seen one of Jake’s arms, and then another laig, and then over on one side Jake’s head, and I says, ‘By crickey! Something musta happened to Jake!’”

That’s what has happened to humanity. Something has happened. Man has been cut into parts. There are now specialists: somebody takes care of the eyes and somebody takes care of the heart and somebody takes care of the head and somebody takes care of something else. Man is divided.

Zen says man is a total organism.

In modern science a new concept is becoming very prevalent – they call it androgeny. Buckminster Fuller has defined androgeny as the characteristic of a whole system, an organism. An organism has something which is not just the sum total of its parts. It is called synergetic – that is, more than the simple sum of its parts. When these parts are united in a functioning whole, in a working order, a synergetic dividend appears – the ‘tick’. You can open a clock and you separate everything – the tick disappears. You put the parts together again in a functioning order – the tick appears again. The tick is something very new. No single part can be made responsible for it; no single part had it. It is the whole that ticks.

That tick is the soul. You take my hand away, you take my leg away, you take my head away, and the tick disappears. The tick is the very soul. But the tick remains only in an organic unity.

God is the tick of this whole existence. You cannot find God by dissecting, God can be found only in a poetic vision of unity. God is a synergetic experience. Science can never reveal it; philosophy can never come to it – only a poetic approach, a very passive, a very loving approach, can. When you fall en rapport with existence, when you are no more separate as a seeker, when you are no more separate as a watcher, when you are no more separate as an observer, when you are lost into it, utterly lost it is there, the tick.

The third thing: Zen is not science but magic. But it is not the magic of the magicians, it is magic as a way to look into life. Science is intellectual. It is an effort to destroy the mystery of life. It kills the wonder. It is against the miraculous. Zen is all for it – for the miraculous, for the mysterious.

The life mystery has not to be solved because it cannot be solved. It has to be lived. One has to move into it, cherish it. It is a great joy that life is a mystery. It has to be celebrated.

Zen is magic. It gives you the key to open the miraculous. And the miraculous is in you and the key is also in you.

When you come to a Zen Master he simply helps you to be silent so that you can find your key which you are carrying all along the way, and you can find your door – which is there – and you can enter into your own innermost shrine.

And the last fundamental: Zen is not morality, it is aesthetics. It does not impose a code of morality, it does not give you any commandments: do this, don’t do that. It simply makes you more sensitive towards the beautiful, and that very sensitivity becomes your morality. But then it arises out of you, out of your consciousness, Zen does not give you any conscience as against consciousness; it simply gives you more consciousness and your more consciousness becomes your conscience. Then it is not that Moses gives you a commandment, it is not that it comes from the Bible or Koran or Vedas . . . it is not coming from outside. It comes from your innermost core.

And when it comes from there it is not slavery, it is freedom. When it comes from there it is not that you are doing it as a duty, reluctantly. You enjoy doing it. It becomes your love.


Excerpt from Zen: The Path of Paradox, V.1, 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.

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