What is this? is the Question used Most Often in Zen Practice

What is this? is the Question used Most Often in Zen Practice

“What is this?” is the question used most often in Zen practice. The practice is very simple. Whether you are walking, standing, sitting or lying down, ask repeatedly “What is this?” You are not looking for an intellectual answer, so your question should not be an intellectual enquiry. In this moment, you are
turning the spotlight onto yourself and your whole experience.

You are not asking: “What is this thought?” or “What is this sensation?” If you need to put the question into a meaningful context, you are asking “What is it that is thinking?” or “Before you think, what is this?” You are not asking “What is the taste of the tea,” but “What is it that tastes the tea?”



Concentration and enquiry are combined in one method in this technique. Concentration is developed as you come back again and again to the words of the question. “What is this?” is the fixed point of the meditation; it brings you back again and again to the present moment.

The question is alive but you are calm and focused as you ask it. In that moment of experience, you are aware of everything as you ask the question diligently and sincerely. Enquiry is vivid because the words are not repeated like a mantra. In themselves, the words do not have special resonance nor are they sacred. They function as a diving board to help you throw yourself into a pool of questioning. Do not put special emphasis on any specific word of the question. The most important part of the question “What is this?” is the question mark.

Question unconditionally without expecting anything. Give yourself totally to the question.
Questioning allows for less certainty, more possibilities, and not being lost in the future or the past. It is not trying to explain away or judge or analyze. It is just being with the moment, looking deeply, asking “What is this?” and being open to experience as it is.

Martine Batchelor