Buddhism does not seek primarily to understand … but seeks an existential and empirical participation in … enlightenment experience.

Thomas Merton, in “A Christian Looks at Zen”

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My friend Bernie, a Zen Master, and I were talking yesterday about living instinctively (that is organically, from within – stripped of reason).

Bernie began to tell me a story about how when he was a young farm boy out to check his traps he came upon a mink who, seeing young Bernie, stood on his hind legs and looked straight at him.  Bernie, in turn, raised his rifle and shot the mink hitting him in his shoulder, whereupon the mink immediately raced toward Bernie to attack.

As he tells it, the startled Bernie instinctively clubbed the mink with his rifle butt.

Yet, the interesting thing about Bernie’s telling of the story was this: when he mentioned the mink he would often say “the monk.”

“Ah,” I responded, “that was organic – living from within, no thought.”  Then I said, “It was no accident that you used ‘monk’ and you wished to use ‘mink.”

He looked quizzically at me.

My reply, “This was the monk story that you told me about.  They are one in the same.”

You see Bernie tells a favorite story of his about the beginning days of his year-long stay in a Buddhist monastery.  In the story Bernie presented himself, as was expected, to the Zen Monk after a period of Zen sitting only to have the monk, after a ceremonial bow, take up a tightly wrapped cloth and beat Bernie with considerable force around the head and shoulders, then lay the cloth club down and excuse Bernie.

The lesson the Zen monk was teaching was this: to dispatch reason, thinking – to empty oneself of intellect in favor of pure experience.

I said to Bernie, “The mink was the monk, and the monk was the mink.”  He smiled and his eyes sparkled.

We live most purely from the inside out, organically.