We understand the specific attraction of Zen Buddhism when we realize the extent to which the contemporary West is animated by "prophetic faith," the sense of the holiness of the ought, the pull of the way things could be and should be but as yet are not. Such faith has obvious virtues, but unless it is balanced by a companion sense of the holiness of the is, it becomes top-heavy. If one's eyes are always on tomorrows, todays slip by unperceived. To a West which in its concern to refashion heaven and earth is in danger of letting the presentness of life—the only life we really have—slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present hour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.
From Huston Smith's "Foreword" to
The Three Pillars of Zen:
Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment
by Philip Kapleau
One day a man of the people said to Zen Master Ikkyu: "Master, willyou please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?"
Ikkyu immediately took his brush and wrote the word "Attention."
"Is that all?" asked the man. "Will you not add something more?"
Ikkyu then wrote twice running: "Attention. Attention."
"Well," remarked the man rather irritably, "I really don't see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written."
Then Ikkyu wrote the same word three times running: "Attention. Attention. Attention."
Half angered, the man demanded: "What does that word 'Attention" mean anyway?"
And Ikkyu answered gently: "Attention means attention."
Anecdote shared by
Philip Kapleau in
The Three Pillars of Zen