One reason I am so anti-intellectual when it comes to Zen, is that humans tend to be far too intellectual to begin with, and while there is a place in Zen for intellect, it is not at the forefront anymore than it is in the background.
To constantly analyze Zen and Buddhist scriptures is to defeat the purpose altogether, just as it is a waste of time and energy to constantly pray, sit for hours on end every day, closely study the sutras as though they were laws to live by, or consider any precept a commandment and live your life according to what has been preached or written. This will help you about as much as slamming your head into a door to get through it.
I can't speak for the East, but I know in the West we're constantly taught to try harder, work harder, and be the best we can be. This competitive attitude has further disrupted the balance between intellect and spirit or vital emotion. This approach leads children to believe they are only good enough when they beat others, and these children grow into adults who often maintain that perspective, and life becomes a competition as opposed to a gift of experience.
When people begin to write books about how you should behave, how you should think, how you should act, and what else you should be reading, it's time to stop paying them mind. They are feeding that competitive fire, in that they are pushing that you can achieve something in Zen.
There is nothing to achieve.
If you are thinking in terms of becoming enlightened within this lifetime, you are looking to achieve it. To make it a desired result at all is to create a challenge for yourself, thereby competing against the very force you will never win against: nature.
So the idea is to stop trying. Act as naturally as you can. But how do you know if you are acting naturally and your behavior is not contrived?
Zazen helps clear the brush from the path.
You can't "figure out" enlightenment from what I understand, so why try? And if you do attain enlightenment, you are still going to be moving through life as you are now, with responsibilities, ailments, laughter, need for nourishment, a place to lay your head...
I feel that, if your practice becomes your life, living is no longer your practice. To me, Zen is about living, not trying to live.
So try not to try.
This is my opinion on the matter, which shouldn't mean anything to you anyway; unless it does.
I'd been aware of Zen's existence since I was a child, though I wasn't aware of what it truly consisted of in terms of practice and theory. I stumbled across the meaning behind it while researching Taoism. I learned about how Zen is a Tao-Buddha combo, and found it interesting because both had something I could sink my teeth into in terms of pragmatic wisdom as opposed to the phony crap that is meant to be all mysterious and comes off as rather hokey.
Anyhow, once my interest was piqued, I began poring over whatever literature I could get my hands on for a deeper introduction into this Zen stuff. I didn't dive right into sutras and whatnot because I felt that was probably diving into the deep end without first knowing how to swim. The first book I read was Shunryu Suzuki's, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. If it weren't for this masterpiece, I probably wouldn't have read anything else or pursued Zen any further. Simple, yet poignant, the book had me engulfed, and it was when I finished reading it that I decided to give the practice a try.
Afterwards, I felt I needed more information, and I looked up more books at my college library. D.T. Suzuki was the next author I tried out. I attempted three of his books and found them far too scholarly and opinionated. To me, this approach to Zen was/is antithetical.
I picked up more books and perused whatever I found on the Internet, only to discover one important fact about my interaction with Zen knowledge and wisdom: I hate reading about it!
I love to read, so that is not the issue. And in fact, I only rarely read fiction; non-fiction being what satisfies my intellectual appetite. However, in regards to Zen and its practice, books suck.
So many people write books as authorities on Zen practice. Zen teachers, monks, priests, abbots...whatever. The titles don't mean a damn thing to me when it comes to whether or not what you say holds any merit in relation to my personal practice. Just because these ladies and gentlemen bear titles of significance within monastery walls, doesn't mean that all that they say and do will be of great significance to me, or you.
Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for those who have earned these titles, and I bow to them for their devotion to the practice, but I think it is a mistake to take all they have to say as though it were written in gold. One of the greatest attributes of Zen that appeals to me and had drawn me in, is the fact that there is no single path. Zen is highly personal, and it is the individual's experiences that helps define their practice, not just the experiences and thoughts of others.
Because Zen is highly personal, I will clarify that I by no means feel my opinion on the matter of the usefulness or uselessness of Zen books holds any real weight. There are some books that are great and have opened my eyes to new perspectives on how I can apply my practice, but those books can be counted on one hand. It isn't going to be the same for everyone. Some people will not be able to find their true paths until they are told which direction to walk, only to eventually discover that they can stray from that path and make their own.
I just don't care much for bullshit, and have found that there is a great deal of it within the pages of Zen books, verbally decorated with authoritative arrogance.
But then, this post is authoritatively arrogant in itself.
Perhaps I should write a book.
It has been my observation that many people that come to Zen are always seeking the profound in life.
"Look around," I think to myself, "is life not profound enough?"
What's more, I often witness those very people bringing their search for the profound into their practice.
Regarding this, I think to myself, "There is nothing to be found in Zen."