Because the fundamental nature of consciousness, of mind itself, is without characteristics, Zen Buddhism teaches signlessness. Ordinary activity, reflected in the lives of monks or villagers, fully embodies this signless teaching about mind. This is the “Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, whose true sign is signlessness, the sublime Dharma gate,” as taught in Zen’s founding legend by the Buddha.
The “sublime gate” of signlessness is not at all empty of meaning. Traditionally, taking Zen’s signless path leads first to perceiving, then seeing through, reincarnation, the “wheel of birth and death.” What is quite profound is then inextricable from what is entirely ordinary. It is passages about the “ordinary,” where the difference between sacred and mundane is forgotten, that Zen literature takes on its peculiar flavor.