Imagine you hold a banana in your hand. What is the experience? Yellow colour, smooth texture, a fragrant and sweet taste when you peel and bite into it.

What is a real banana?  What is a book, what is a mountain, what is a cup or what is a computer?  

Zen says they are names given by the mind, to a range of sensations and thoughts in response.

Zen says that these forms are empty of independent existence. Meaning they can be traced back through interconnections to a place where we end up saying I don’t know. We experience the apparent final form in our minds.  

Physics also says that dancing and interacting  quantum fields are the only fundamental reality, not the final form of stuff we see, feel or name.

Zen says that thoughts and emotions are similarly empty.  Imagine a suffering thought. Most likely the suffering event is not happening at this moment. Your mind weaves various thoughts into a composite called anger, fear, jealousy, etc. These thoughts and emotions also do not have independent existence, they are built upon other thoughts which in turn are based on nothing, emptiness. 

So at every moment we perceive both nothing or emptiness and what we call the world or creation. HH Dalai Lama has two daily meditation, one called shunyata or emptiness and  the other, Loving Kindness for all.

Our bodies are endowed with senses; vision, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. These five senses report each moment like this moment. Mind weaves these sensations into stories and calls it life.

At the next moment, reports from these senses are different, we call it change. To account for these changes, the mind creates a story of time, past, present and future.

By wandering away from the senses, one by one, by staying still and repeatedly bringing our attention to a meditation object such as the breath, these stories can be transcended. This is the essence of Zen practice, to sit until you experience this emptiness. 

In Zen, we do not look for reality but for what is not real and then wander back to breath. No religion, philosophy, science or spirituality can define what is real, only what is not real. 

This world of “what is not real”, meaning an imagined illusion, begins with movement of senses and thought.

The illusion of life has both pleasant experiences and suffering. Buddha focussed on what all of us want to fix i.e. suffering. He saw that at the root of this illusion is an assumed entity we call “me, mine and I”. Buddha’s logic is simple; if “I” is not real, just an illusion, sufferings must also be so. 

Seeing this, is the breakthrough, a Zen practitioner may experience. Thoughts of fear, anger, hate and love still happen but they are no longer suffering. Unfortunately this is not an instantaneous shift. A change, which is also known as  time, is often needed.

A popular koan captures this well.

“First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain and finally there is mountain again.”


Shut your eyes and see

Yes, you actually

See and feel

that nothing is really here. 

Even the eyes are not here 

Just darkness of nothing. 

These words aren't here

Not the reader, nor the writer.

One telling the truth isn't here

Truth isn't here

Lies aren't here.

The universe isn't here

Here is not here

There is not here


Imagine the first light

Past the stars

Past the galaxies

Before the universe.

Look back

What do you see?


That's all.


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