From earliest times thinkers must have perceived that on the one hand they could not think without words; on the other hand, words expressed only half the whole truth.
– Frederick Franck (Zen and Zen Classics)
Zen Merely Points the Way
DT Suzuki expressed one of the main challenges that faces students of Zen when he wrote in his Introduction to Zen Buddhism,
“Zen is decidedly not a system founded upon logic and analysis. If anything, it is the antipode to logic, by which I mean the dualistic mode of thinking. There may be an intellectual element in Zen, for Zen is the whole mind, and in it we find a great many things; but the mind is not a composite thing that is to be divided into so many faculties, leaving nothing behind when a dissection is over. Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis; nor has it any set doctrines which are imposed on its followers for acceptance. In this respect Zen is quite chaotic if you choose to say so. Probably Zen followers may have sets of doctrines, but they have them on their own account, and for their own benefit; they do not owe the fact to Zen. Therefore, there are in Zen no sacred books or dogmatic tenets, nor are there any symbolic formulae through which an access might be gained into the signification of Zen. If I am asked, then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one's own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way. Unless this pointing is teaching, there is certainly nothing in Zen purposely set up as its cardinal doctrines or its fundamental philosophy.“
It is for this reason perhaps that any study of Zen is fraught with set-backs and regression as ideas spiral back around upon themselves sometimes in apparent (and, at times, maddening) self-contradiction. Breakthroughs occur, however, when traditional logical conventions are cast off and the interdependence of what were once thought of as opposing concepts is recognized.