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“Enlightenment in Zen does not mean withdrawal from the world but means, on the contrary, active participation in everyday affairs.

In Zen, satori means the immediate experience of the Buddha nature of things. First and foremost among these things are the objects, affairs and people involved in everyday life, so that while it emphasizes life’s practicalities, Zen is nevertheless profoundly mystical. Living entirely in the present and giving full attention to everyday affairs, one who has attained satori experiences the wonder and mystery of life in every single act:

How wondrous this, how mysterious!

I carry fuel, I draw water.

The perfection of Zen is thus to live one’s everyday life naturally and spontaneously. When Po-chang was asked to define Zen, he said, “When hungry, eat, when tired, sleep.” Although this sounds simple and obvious, like so much in Zen, it is in fact a difficult task. To regain the naturalness of our original nature requires long training and constitutes a great spiritual achievement. In the words of a famous Zen saying,

“Before you study Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; while you are studying Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers; but once you have had enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and rivers again rivers.”

Zen’s emphasis on naturalness and spontaneity certainly shows its Taoist roots, but the basis for this emphasis is strictly Buddhistic. It is the belief in the perfection of our original nature, the realization that the process of enlightenment consists merely in becoming what we already are from the beginning.

When the Zen master Po-chang was asked about seeking for the Buddha nature, he answered, “It’s much like riding the ox in search of the ox.”

[From ‘The Tao of Physics‘ by Fritjof Capra]

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