Zen Again

Photo Credit: Patrick Vierthaler Flickr via Compfight cc

I used to look at zen as my in-between phase when I transitioned from religion to irreligion. But that is somewhat inaccurate as I have never really left it, nor do I think I can.

When some people hear “zen” they think of zen buddhism — of temples and monks, sitting in meditation, the two major schools — Soto and Rinzai, enlightenment, different ceremonies and so on. That is zen buddhism as a religion and an institution. That is not what I am referring to.

Zen can exist without its external trappings, without its ranks or priesthoods, even without its doctrines, because it is ultimately a way of seeing, of being aware of reality as it really is. The zen master D.T. Suzuki said, “Zen opens a man’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed.”

A disciple asked his master, “What do you mean by seeing reality as it really is?”

The master answered, “When some people look at the moon, some might see the face of their lover, or some might see a huge ball of cheese.”

Applied to a local setting, we can say that some see the current president as the country’s savior and some see him as an evil monster. But few really see him for who he is, and yet no one would admit that.

What attracted me to zen was its total irreverence for even its own authority figures. Even Gautama Buddha himself said, “You monks and wise people, do not accept my words merely out of respect or reverence. You must examine and test them just as a goldsmith analyzes gold — by cutting, rubbing, and burning it.”

A student once asked Master Yunmen, “What is the buddha?” The master answered, “Dried dung.”

Buddhahood or enlightenment is often seen as something to achieve, a state of being that people think once attained, will give them endless bliss or contentment, but it’s not. The master breaks that illusion by referring to it as dried dung. It is not some special, spiritual way of life. It is waking up from our illusions of a utopian future and recognizing the miracle of the very life we are already living now.

Linjin said, “Those who are content to be nothing special are noble people. Don’t strive. Be ordinary. Buddhism has no room for special effort. Eat and drink, then move your bowels and piss, and when you’re tired, go to sleep. Fools will find me ridiculous, but the wise will understand.”

Zen masters are famous for not even trying to live up to the image of a master. Those who do are probably fake and after your money or allegiance. The true masters called each other fools, would make fun of their scripture and even burn them. They are often portrayed in paintings as comical and ridiculous.

What they are really trying to do is prevent their followers from idolizing them too much, from thinking that they had to be their master in order to be enlightened. That was not the point. The point was to seek the enlightened being within themselves.

Alan Watts said of these masters, “It amused them to think that they and their wise brothers were supposed by ordinary standards to be especially holy. They realized that everything was holy, even cooking pots and odd leaves blown about by the wind, and that there was nothing particularly venerable about themselves.”

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

It’s All About You

Some time ago, I found myself in the middle of a fight between two friends. Greg was visibly angry because of something Maria had said in a meeting. His face turned red and his eyes blazed as he shouted across the room at Maria. Maria also started to yell back and the rest of us had to keep the two of them from going at each other because they were on their feet and about to advance on each other.

I told the others to take care of Maria while I quickly ushered Greg into an adjoining room.

“Ok, calm down. Breathe,” I said.

“But…” he started.

“Shhh…don’t talk. I’ll give you time to talk. Take a minute to cool your head first,” I said.

After a minute, I said, “Ok, so what happened back there?”

“You know, she’s so careless with her words. She acts like such a know-it-all and says this and that,” Greg goes on and on ranting for a couple of minutes. Then he stops.

“Are you done?” I asked.

He thinks for a minute, then says, “Yeah, I’m done.”

“Can I talk now?” I said.

“Yeah, sure,” he said.

Greg and I had recently attended a seminar and I thought it was quite relevant to remind him of something we learned there.

“Do you remember that talk we attended? Where the speaker talked about being more aware of our own thoughts and feelings, and that when we dislike another person, it’s usually because we dislike the very same thing in ourselves. Well, I’m not going to say who’s wrong or who’s right between the two of you, but why don’t you take this chance to see why you dislike her so much? Maybe it’s not about her at all but about you,” I said.

The speaker was actually drawing on something that German novelist Hermann Hesse said, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.”

So I talked with Greg for the next 30 minutes or so, and every time he went on a finger-pointing mode, I gently pointed him back to himself. “Look, I said, she has her own issues to deal with. I understand why you don’t like her but it’s a more difficult task to change the way she is. What is more doable is to change the way you look at her and the situation. If you understand what it is about her that you hate about yourself, then you can move forward from there, and perhaps even understand her a bit better.”

His eyes lit up as he slowly understood what I was driving at. After an hour, I had the two of them apologize to each other and they were on more amicable terms after that.

These days, I still see a lot of hate going around on Facebook, Twitter and so on. Why don’t you take some time to ask yourselves — what is it about Rodrigo Duterte that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Leni that I don’t like in myself? What is it about Mocha Uson, Loida Lewis, Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquaio, Edgar Matobato, the Dutertards, the Yellowtards,  and so on and so forth, that I don’t like about myself?

This only works if you take an honest look at yourself. Don’t try to apply this to others. Don’t say, “Oh, so and so should read this and do it.” No, do it yourself.

It’s all about you.


Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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