To associate your personal awakened consciousness and clarity with a hero or mentor is a mistake, and a thing of the past quickly fading into the dust of their golden ages long gone. Understand that these famous teachers were speaking to a nearly "dull" type of consciousness, a collective collapsed intellect if you will, of those particular times. According to the history, this was apparently deliberately imposed, although there is no way to prove that the people simply didn't slump into an evolutionary state of ignorance on their own. Evolution of knowledge had retarded or stopped from time to time and no one could reach the purposeful mind or actualized consciousness potential that was possible for the age.
The "fall of man", the "dark ages" and the collapse of knowledge therin has been over since the Reneaissance. The upward climb to regain, or attain higher knowledge truly began a mass upswing in the 17th Century. Since then, information, education, technologies and communications have elevated much of the population of common people to well past the knowledge base of the most astute students of Buddha's day and age. People are "primed" for enlightenment in our age, if they choose it and can overcome the media's subliminal attempts to keep people sedated and sick. The snares are still there, yes, but it is an entirely new game.
To presume that "Cosmic Consciousness" is universal and without limits as to time and space is correct and becoming more and more obvious as we open our minds and investigations to more radical views on existence in a probable populated universe. But the mortal people of earth and their gods of an age were not yet here in evolution and can not direct from such an evolutionary distance, our course of enlightenment. Kill the Buddhas. Get notions of grand teachers and heroisms out of your head and put yourself in their place. Remove the statues and wooden bowls, the legends and stories told, the icons and symbols, the churches and temples. Leave the symbol as it is, the "circle" ageless and universal ,and clean out the spiritual clutter and crutches of mentor dependancy in your religion.
Enlightenment is not the same experience for everyone. Enlightenment comes in all shapes, sounds, colors, trends, cultures and possibly even planets. Enlightenment can be temporary, permanent, alarming, thrilling, sad, exhilarating, wanted, unwanted, chosen or unchosen. Enlightenment just "is" wherever, and however it finds you and has nothing to do with Buddha or any other teacher except that it was experienced and discussed by these individuals. Take the "Buddhism" out of "Zen" and become "Cosmic". This is where we are in our every day exposure to life in an advancing consciousness and evolutionary bolt. Clean out the iconic cobwebs and be moving on the natural evolutionary node with the times YOU live in.
We are moving at a very high rate of speed in evolution at the present and so are the shifts and changes around us. For most of us to "sit in quiet mind on a rock and "know" is something more of a "holiday" than a daily practice. The old ways were for an old age and are often impractical, annoying, stuffy and weak in an age of taking control and navigating though an airtight societal design of which no one escapes. The evolved reality of this is that once you have had a "zen" experience, you no longer have to labor and aspire to "zen mind", it will find you. There is no discipline or "practice" to it. Zen Buddhists may balk at this "deep zen" clarity, then they still don't get it. Authority is not always correct.
"Zen" (without Buddhism) is alive and well and thriving in modern culture and is a main curve on the rise of enlightnment, awakenings and leaping evolutions of consciousness. Potent and direct, "Zen" is not a time waster, strict in practices or duties and moves the individual at a natural modern pace, in a natural modern lifestyle, to the natural rythm of their own pulse. Zen is "in" an individual and goes along the natural path of the individuals present environment and particular individual aspirations. There is "fast zen", "deep zen" and "funny zen" and a "zen" for all things.
"The Zen of It" is the new "Koan" leaving more and more to experiential conception in a busy changing environment that is unrecognizable to the ancient teachers of their times. "The Zen of It" releases permission for common social sharing on a "zen" level as well as private and personal "takes" on natural and unnatural reality. "The Zen of It" is a modern day buzz phrase that brings it's own natural surge of open growth to a once secret, private, guarded, sacred temple scrolled religion.
This is not to say that "Zen Buddhism" is not offered, taught, shared and written about in open arenas in our current societies, it is to say that "Zen" does not need Buddha or any other iconic teacher anymore. It is to say that Zen has evolved out of the grasp of one culture or two and is a multicultural birth right as it is "cosmic" by nature, not Chinese or Japanese, just "cosmic". It is to say that Zen has evolved into a "teacherless" religion. It has "grown up". An informative investigation into "Zen Buddhism" is a nice starting point for people interested in enlightenment and cosmic consciousness, but it is just a history, a starting point, not a landing point. Again, "Zazen" predates Buddhism by thousands of years and with hundreds of mentors of the times. So, if you must start Zen with Buddhism, you are rather starting a bit late.
"Zen" is a very pretty word, no one would argue, originating in 6th century China, for a state of awareness that is open and actively seeing reality as it is and is a "universal" phenomenon. "Kill the Buddha", as the old Zen Koan itself prescribes and be in the natural way of Zen. There are many koans that are not Buddhist. "I am" was known as simply "am" to more ancient cultures prior to China. So all the issues around the origin of Zen and correct teaching and practice are merely "fray", throw them out with the Buddha.
By the way, I can rather "sense" the comments that could come from this article. "You are a Zen teacher, shouldn't we get rid of you too then?" No, I am not a Zen "teacher", I am rather a "Zen doer" and do not know you or care about you to teach you. I care about me. I write this because I enjoy it and do it solely for what it does for me. I do not take students or followers or apprentices. I have already done my "service to humanity" so to speak, and am finished with altruism. This is an art . . . and I am painting. This is a blogzine. You are welcome, if you like. :) Dive in!