True Meaning of Zen and of Life… In Just 3 Words

True Meaning of Life 

The students at No Wind Monastery were flabbergasted!  They could hardly believe what they had just heard.  Master Blusime, the greatest Zen Master since Dogen Zenji had just revealed what they never thought they would hear.  In their traditional morning congregation Master Blumise had said, “My most beloved family, I really need your help.  Yesterday evening a guest at our renowned monastery asked me a very good question.  He asked me, ‘What is the True Meaning of Zen?’ and asked if I could summarize it for him in just 3 words.  My loved ones, please help me as I don’t know what to reply.  I have asked the visitor to wait till the end of the week and then promised him my response.  So please, by the end of the week, in 3 words give me the definition of Zen.  The definition of Zen is also the definition of life.  I look to you for help in this great crisis that has befallen me and the reputation of our great institution is at stake.  Please save us from humiliation.”

Meaning of Zen

Master Blumise had just confessed that he had been stumped by a question!  That he did not know the answer and that too, to such a fundamental question.  Perhaps he was loosing his mind, maybe senility was setting in, maybe this was a test, maybe he was no longer enlightened and had fallen back into Maya (illusion), the rumors were thick in the air.  All the students had their take and all of them also saw this as a great opportunity to shine — to be the hero — to be the one who would save the day — all the students save one — our wise monk Tara.  Midst all the excitement and gossip stood Tara, every so often just having a big laugh whenever the conversation was breached in her presence.  She laughed and laughed all week in some secret delight, while the others mulled and mused the answer to this most interesting question.

Finally, the week ended and as requested by Master Blumise all the answers were written and submitted.  They were to be read out after the morning breakfast in the Great Hall.  The monks were anxious and excited… all but Tara, who continued to enjoy her private joke.  Some monks, irritated by her mysterious behavior, finally approached her and inquired into the reason for her weird demeanor. 

“The monastery is in trouble, Master Blumise has confessed he can’t answer the question of the visitor, this is a very serious situation for us and we have all worked very hard to solve this puzzle, but all week we have not seen you make any effort.  All you do is laugh and giggle constantly.  What is so funny?”

Tara, though, did not reply and shrugging her shoulders made off toward the Great Hall for the answer reading ceremony.

All is One:    Wrong

All is Nothing:    Wrong

Just be Yourself:    Wrong

Follow Your Heart:    Wrong

All is illusion:    Wrong

All is Love:    Wrong

Be Here Now:    Wrong

I am God:    Wrong

Zen is Zen:    Wrong

I am nobody:    Wrong

Bliss, Being, Consciousness:    Wrong

I am That:    Wrong

All is Mind:    Wrong

All is Emptiness:    Wrong

All is Buddha:    Wrong

All are Enlightened:    Wrong 

Tick Tack Toe:    Wrong

Then Finally….

I Don’t Know:    RIGHT

Tara had realized that Master Blumise was right all along when he said that the answer to the Question, “What is the True Definition of Zen?” was “I Don’t Know.”  She also knew that the great master was far from loosing his mind.  Master Blumise bowed to Tara with a blissful smile for her right answer and Tara bowed back utterly grateful to her teacher for sharing his wisdom and love.

The True Meaning of Zen is also the True Meaning of Life.  If you can understand this answer completely you will understand all there is to understand.  You will understand the heart of Zen, you will understand the heart of meditation, you will understand what all the great teachers have been trying to teach mankind over the centuries. 

I can explain this answer in great detail, but instead let me suggest another way for this insight to explode in you.  Can you right now, absolutely, sincerely, actually come to the point where you can say “I don’t know” to the question “What is the purpose of life?”  Which is just another way of asking “What is the Meaning of Life or Zen?”  If you can come to that point where you are have no answer to offer, the mind will have nothing to pursue.  As long as you think you know what the answer is, think you know what is important, think you know what is worthwhile, think you know what to do to get where you think you need to go, you will chase.  As long as you chase, you will never find.  Can you drop the apple and not take the next bite?  Heaven is waiting…

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  1. Taoist Arts
    Taoist Arts says:

    Great post, thanks – It reminds me of the first lines of the Tao Te Ching: “The way that can be spoken is not the true Way, then name that can be named is not he true name.”

  2. Jvalin Tejpal
    Jvalin Tejpal says:

    Hey Anmol, stumbled upon your blog half an hour ago and to tell you the truth, I am hooked :D

    I must admit, I didn’t understand the message given behind this article. Wouldn’t life be purpose-less without an objective? If you do not know your purpose of life, how would you make decisions or move forward? As a 16 year old, the words “I don’t know” seem to me as if a person is exhibiting a care-free attitude, oblivious to the challenges around them.

    The meaning behind this article just doesn’t seem attractive to me. Could you help me understand? If you leave alone to desire to achieve what you like, how is it going to help you in any way?

    Just a few questions :)

  3. Self-Realization
    Self-Realization says:

    Absolutely spot on for the ego. It is even worse really because the ego does not even know what the full extent of life or the word meaning mean in true reality. As for true reality, the real Self, I imagine it couldn’t give a fig for such limited dualistic musings as “meaning of life”, but then that is seen purely from the limited ego standpoint.

  4. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hi Mike,

    Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. The “I don’t know”, in this context is in the sense of not chasing that which you think will make you happy. If you can leave it alone, you can live as Dalai Lahma as beautifully said.


  5. mick p
    mick p says:

    i heard the Dalai Lahma had once said something like the meaning of life is ‘to be happy and useful’.
    i thought it was simple and beautiful so I don’t know about ‘I don’t know

  6. Anmol Mehta
    Anmol Mehta says:

    Hi Vijay,

    Great stuff thanks for contributing your insights. There are many huge fans of advaita vedanta here who resonate with how you are putting it.

    “I don’t know”, is just a way of getting the mind out of the way, so that the Self can shine through. If the mind thinks it knows what the goal is, it’s seeking activity occludes the wonderous, all encompassing Self.

    Great to have your invaluable “2 cents” :-D.


  7. Vijay
    Vijay says:

    My 2 cents, “Love thy self”
    Is the true meaning. Everything starts with self, world is nothing but the imterpretation of one’s conciousness.
    Hence world is different for different people.
    If you love your self you will love things around you as long as you can see your self in others.
    I dont know is fact but not true meaning of life. Sometimes you dont know what you dont know but that doesnt mean that search stops there ! Ultimate truth is that there is no ultimate truth, Only meaning to life is that there is no meaning to this life !
    Not too sure if you guys going to like this comments, but anyway my 2 cents.

    • Crazy Dog
      Crazy Dog says:

      It is what it is,and that’s all that it is!!!
      Gasping for it is vanity;
      holding onto it is folly;
      letting go of it is freedom;
      leaving it is serenity…


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  3. jugalbandi » Fool-proof Sourdough Starter with an Indian twist says:

    […] We Don’t Know. It’s one of those Zen experiences that’s hard to elucidate. […]

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