A Bellyful Of Zen

In the Zen classic, The Blue Cliff Record (translated by Katsuki Sekida), case twenty, “Ryuge Asks Suibi and Rinzai”, we find a young student challenging old Zen masters, then, later on, a note describing someone who has had their first insight into Zen:

One becomes greatly excited and often rather conceited, thinking that one has completely mastered Zen. The phrase used to describe such a student is ‘He carries with him his bellyful of Zen.’”

This is the main theme of this blog, in a word, being full of it. 

But what exactly is “it”?

What is Zen?

Now, while I’ll admit I am quite full of it, I’m not that full of it. 

Which is to say I have no answer for you. I don’t have the faintest clue on what Zen is…

But it sure does seem to sell well!

Case 20 of “The Blue cliff Record” Translated by Katsuki Sekida

These days you must of noticed the word “Zen” plastered everywhere, from ‘Zen Tea’ to ‘Zen Soap’ to even ‘Zen Taco’s’. Hell, you could google just about anything with the word “Zen” tagged to it and I’d bet you’d find some company trying to sell you something.

So, while Zen is everywhere (apparently), it’s everywhere to the degree that we have no real indication of what it actually is.

That said, there is a ‘general’ consensus that it has something to do with “Zazen”, which means something along the lines of seated meditation. Even this becomes suspect after a closer look though. The focus on seated meditation (and the placid character traits generally ascribed with them), has been claimed by some to be greatly fetishized by the West, and even some sects of Buddhism. These, usually firm objectors, claim that the original Zen Patriarchs had a variety of techniques and styles that worked to give insight into what Zen really “is”. Whats more, these objectors usually suggest we listen to these old farts rather than the new guys in town, dismissing Zen thinkers as far back as Dogen Zenji (sometimes further), and as recent as the fairly popular, Shunryu Suzuki.

Now, I have no real opinion on how bastardized ‘Zen’ has become, and couldn’t really even if I wanted to (after all, I’m probably bastardizing it myself!) but I do feel this natural confusion of what ‘Zen’ is bleeds into a general trait of our time. In other-words, I think we all have a bit of this “Bellyful of Zen” attitude, whether its Zen, politics, philosophy, everyday life, or whatever… Whats strange though (to me at-least), is that we seem to shy away from our full bellies!

What sort of fun is that?

So I thought I’d start a blog and make some noise too, talk about some of my own ideas and things I’ve read, you know, the same crap you see everywhere else..

But I do hope I will make things interesting.


So to partially finish this introduction, lets go back to case twenty of the Blue Cliff Record and finish the note I quoted:

“…Ryuge, in the same way, came to engage in Dharma battle and inspect this old, mature master. In a way, this is to be admired as a display of youthful valor.”

Notes from Case Twenty, “Ryuge Asks Suibi And Rinzai” of the Blue Cliff Record

Hi, I’m James, and welcome to my blog, “A Bellyful Of Zen”.

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