This is a very legitimate question since Zen is a personal experience to achieve a
" don't know mind" that is 1) To be able to scan and control the thoughts of our ego-centered mind and main source of discomfort and dissatisfaction and 2) To be free of concepts, preconceived ideas, opinions and judgment. If the goal is "Don't know mind" why would one teach for hours or read zillions of books to fill up this mind? A contradiction isn't it?
In a perfect world Zen teaching is probably totally unnecessary. Then why over the last 2000 years all Zen teachers have been teaching and writing books and will continue do so?
The reason is simple:
Students and more specifically Westerners want to understand the basics of Zen Buddhist philosophy, for example its complex terminology such as: "No self, impermanence, empty mind, nirvana, no form, awakening, karma, rebirth, reincarnation, monkey mind, no time, mindfulness, just be, no birth/no death, Middle Way, mirror thinking, Samsara, no beginning no end". Asking many more questions like "When do I know that I am progressing?", "How & why to meditate".
The perfect student may ask: "What is don't know mind?"
The perfect teacher may reply: "Just sit and meditate and you will find out!"
This is a perfect mind-to-mind teaching for perfect people. Unfortunately few students and teachers are perfect and this type of teaching attitude will go nowhere especially in our Western World where we are more demanding for knowledge.
The #1 duty of the teacher is to help students in answering properly their questions. The #2 duty is to assist and assess their progress. Questions are important not only for the student but also for the teacher who will assess students and.....her/his teaching.
Academic Zen vs. Zen practice.
One may know the Bible or the Koran or the Sutras by heart but this knowledge will not make them better Christians or Muslims or Buddhist. Same thing for Zen practitioners.
One may know very well the mechanics of a car engine but it will not make her/him a better driver. Same thing for Zen practitioners.
Knowing and understanding Zen very well will not make a good practitioner.
Academia and experience should not be seen as opposite but complementary.
Zen Buddhism loves the concept of the Middle Way and it should be apply regarding
Zen teaching and practice. Some academic teaching including discussion is necessary and will always be to help and maintain students on the right tract.
Talking about esoteric dialogue is judgmental and unfortunate.
As far our classes our current format is ~ 15% of teaching + Q&A and ~85% meditation. This is a good ratio for beginners. It will be modulated towards more meditation as progress in Zen practice is confirmed among our members.
Wishing you all a week .... as it will be.
Ven. Ji Gong Sunim.