On Zen: Candlelight and Coffee Beans

If you immediately know the candlelight is fire,
then the meal was cooked a long time ago.

- Hsin Hsin Ming

Think about it for a second. No really... take a minute to try and understand its meaning because trust me, the rewards hidden in this proverb are worth the effort. When I first heard this zen koan I was confused for quite some time, but after meditating on it for a year or so I’m happy to report that I can upgrade that status to: still confused. The difference is what I’ve learned along the way and by now I’m wholly in love with this koan; it’s obscure, non-sequitur and frustrating. In other words: perfectly Zen.

Or should I say, “perfectly Sven”?

If there's one thing about the martial arts that attracts me more than anything else - more than the cool techniques, more than overcoming challenges and even learning new things, it's Zen. It’s the quintessential vision of the wizened master sitting meditatively, unflapped by circumstance. Or of his pupil in seclusion, practicing forms in the dwindling light.

Early on my preoccupation with Zen troubled me a little because of its integration with Buddhism. You see while I’m happy to accept some of the great wisdom other religions or philosophies have to offer, switching to one of them just isn’t something I’m comfortable with in this journey. My decision to pursue a Christian understanding of Zen couldn’t be further from a decision to off-seat my faith; I just want to understand Zen as a Christian. I want to see if and/or how Jesus and Zen interface.*

Earlier this year I had one of our seminary faculty in my office who, upon discovering my fascination with Zen koans looked at me and delighted, “Sven! You’re a contemplative!” (likely an unexpected revelation about someone as loud and boisterous as myself). She’s right, and it got me thinking…

Zen vs. Contemplative.
Zen vs. Worship.
Zen as Worship?

Hmm… this deserves many hours of reading, meditation and prayer. In the meantime, a co-worker just handed me a tin of chocolate-covered coffee beans as a Christmas gift. I can't imagine a more perfect fuel for Zen and push-ups.

Should you desire great tranquility,
prepare to sweat white beads.

- Hakuin


*Future post spoiler: they do!