Since “one showing is worth a hundred sayings,” the expression of Zen in the arts gives us one of the most direct ways of understanding it.

The favorite subjects of Zen artists are what we should call natural, concrete and secular things. Furthermore, the arts of Zen are not merely or primarily representational. Even in painting, the work of art is considered not only as representing nature but as being itself a work of nature. For the very technique involves the art of artlessness, or what Sabro Hasegawa has called the “controlled accident,” so that paintings are formed as naturally as the rocks and grasses which they depict.

The point is rather that for Zen there is no duality, no conflict between the natural element of chance and the human element of control. The constructive powers of the human mind are no more artificial than the formative actions of plants or bees, so that from the standpoint of Zen it is no contradiction to say that artistic technique is discipline in spontaneity and spontaneity in discipline.

The art forms of the Western world arise from spiritual and philosophical traditions in which spirit is divided from nature, and comes down from heaven to work upon it as an intelligent energy upon an inert and recalcitrant stuff. Thus Malraux speaks always of the artist “conquering” his medium as our explorers and scientists also speak of conquering mountains or conquering space. To Chinese and Japanese ears these are grotesque expressions. For when you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink, and paper which determine the result as much as your own hand.

This is a first principle in the study of Zen and of any Far Eastern art: hurry, and all that it involves, is fatal. For there is no goal to be attained. The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world. Absence of hurry also involves a certain lack of interference with the natural course of events, especially when it is felt that the natural course follows principles which are not foreign to human intelligence. For, as we have seen, the Taoist mentality makes, or forces, nothing but “grows” everything. When human reason is seen to be an expression of the same spontaneous balance of yang and yin as the natural universe, man’s action upon his environment is not felt as a conflict, an action from outside. Thus the difference between forcing and growing cannot be expressed in terms of specific directions as to what should or should not be done, for the difference lies primarily in the quality and feeling of the action.

The difficulty of describing these things for Western ears is that people in a hurry cannot feel.

The brush must draw by itself. This cannot happen if one does not practice constantly. But neither can it happen if one makes an effort. Similarly, in swordsmanship one must not first decide upon a certain thrust and then attempt to make it, since by that time it will be too late. Decision and action must be simultaneous.

A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only “getting somewhere” as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance. One can get anywhere and everywhere, and yet the more this is possible, the less is anywhere and everywhere worth getting to. For points of arrival are too abstract, too Euclidean to be enjoyed, and it is all very much like eating the precise ends of a banana without getting at hat lies in between. The point, therefore, of these arts is the doing of them rather than the accomplishments. But, more than this, the real joy of them lies in what turns up unintentionally in the course of practice, just as the joy of travel is not nearly so much in getting where one wants to o as in the unsought surprises which occur on the journey.

Planned surprises are as much of a contradiction as intentional satori, and whoever aims at satori is after all like a person who sends himself Christmas presents for fear that others will forget him. One must simply face the fact that Zen is all that side of life which is completely beyond our control, and which will not come to us by any amount of forcing or wangling or cunning–stratagems which produce only fakes of the real thing.

Because Zen does not involve an ultimate dualism between the controller and the controlled, the mind and the body, the spiritual and the material, there is always a certain “physiological” aspect to its techniques. Whether Zen is practiced za-zen or cha-no-yu or kendo, great importance is attached to the way of breathing. Not only is breathing one of the two fundamental rhythms of the body; it is also the process in which control and spontaneity, voluntary and involuntary action, find their most obvious identity. Long before the origins of the Zen School, both Indian yoga and Chinese Taoism practiced “watching the breath,” with a view to letting–not forcing–it to become as slow and silent as possible. Physiologically and psychologically, the relationship between breathing and “insight” is not yet altogether clear. But if we look at man as process rather than entity, rhythm rather than structure, it is obvious that breathing is something which he does–and thus is–constantly. Therefore grasping air with the lungs goes hand-in-hand with grasping at life.

So-called “normal” breathing is fitful and anxious. The air is always being held and not fully released, for the individual seems incapable of “letting” it run its full course through the lungs. He breathes compulsively rather than freely. The technique therefore begins by encouraging a full release of the breath–easing it out as if the body were being emptied of air by a great leaden ball sinking through the chest and abdomen, and settling down into the ground. The returning in-breath is then allowed to follow as a simple reflex action. The air is not actively inhaled; it is just allowed to come–and then, when the lungs are comfortably filled, it is allowed to go out once more, the image of the leaden ball giving it the sense of “falling” out as distinct from being pushed out.

. . . Zen has always called itself the way of instantaneous awakening. It is not just that satori comes quickly and unexpectedly, all of a sudden, for mere speed has nothing to do with it. The reason is that Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and the future are abstractions without any concrete reality.

Until this has become clear, it seems that our life is all past and future, and that the present is nothing more than the infinitesimal hairline which divides them. From this comes the sensation of “having no time,” of a world which hurries by so rapidly that it is gone before we can enjoy it. But through “Awakening to the instant” one sees that this is the reverse of the truth: it is rather the past and future which are the fleeting illusions, and the present which is eternally real. We discover that the linear succession of time is a convention of our single-track verbal thinking, of a consciousness which interprets the world by grasping little pieces of it, calling them things and events. But every such grasp of the mind excludes the rest of the world, so that this type of consciousness can get an approximate vision of the whole only through a series of grasps, one after another.

Yet the superficiality of this consciousness is seen in the fact that it cannot and does not regulate even the human organism. For if it had to control the heartbeat, the breath, the operation of the nerves, glands, muscles, and sense organs, it would be rushing wildly around the body taking care of one thing after another, with no time to do anything else. Happily, it is not in charge, and the organism is regulated by the timeless “original mind,” which deals with life in its totality and so can do ever so many “things” at once.

However, it is not as if the superficial consciousness were one thing, and the “original mind” another, for the former is a specialized activity of the latter. Thus the superficial consciousness can awaken to the eternal present if it stops grasping. But this does not come to pass by trying to concentrate on the present–an effort which succeeds only in making the moment seem ever more elusive and fleeting, ever more impossible to bring into focus. Awareness of the “eternal now” comes about by the same principle as the clarity of hearing and seeing and the proper freedom of the breath. Clear sight has nothing to do with trying to see; it is just the realization that the eyes will take in every detail all by themselves, for so long as they are open one can hardly prevent the light from reaching them. In the same way, there is no difficulty in being fully aware of the eternal present as soon as it is seen that one cannot possibly be aware of anything else–that in concrete fact there is no past or future. Making an effort to concentrate on the instantaneous moment implies at once that there are other moments. But they are nowhere to be found, and in truth one rests as easily in the eternal present as the eyes and ears respond to light and sound.

As Nan-ch’uan said, to try to accord with it is to deviate from it, though in fact no one cannot deviate and there is no one to deviate. So, too, one cannot get away from the eternal present by trying to attend to it, and this very fact shows that, apart from this present, there is no distinct self that watches and knows it–which is why Hui-k’o could not find his mind when Bodhidharma asked him to produce it.

However puzzling this may be, and however many philosophical problems it may raise, one clear look is enough to show its unavoidable truth. There is only this now. It does not come from anywhere; it is not going anywhere. It is not permanent, but it is not impermanent. Though moving, it is always still. When we try to catch it, it seems to run away, and yet it is always here and there is no escape from it. And when we turn round to find the self which knows this moment, we find that it has vanished like the past.

Yet, when it comes to this, this moment can be called “present” only in relation to past and future, or to someone to whom it is present. But when there is neither past nor future, and no one to whom this moment is present, what is it? When Fa-ch’ang was dying, a squirrel screeched on the roof. “It’s just this,” he said, “and nothing else.”