The Warmth of Zen

by Bob Schwartz

One of the descriptions—it might be a criticism—of Zen is that it is cold and severe. That the core practice of “just sitting” (shikantaza) and thinking non-thinking/beyond thinking is too intellectual and does not include elements of feeling and humanity found in other practices and traditions, including some Buddhist ones.

Not to refute something that doesn’t ask for refutation, but here is a thought. Zen is like building the best fireplace in which the best fires can be set to burn the most cleanly and warmly. Yes, stone and bricks are cold. And you can build fires in the middle of your room or outside, and you may. But it is also good to have a well-constructed place to bring your wood and flame. It may seem impossible to build a fireplace just by sitting. But ultimately, it is actually very warm.