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.

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5 thoughts on “Zen Again”

  1. Are Buddhist never try to set some goals or plans to achieve? That seems the implications in your article. Having no set goals and plans will cause not trouble and even the painful struggle to reach it.

  2. Since you decided to start closing the comments for some of your postings, I apologize for blending this comment for this posting along with a previous one.

    It is nice to see you criticize another “religion” with illogical rhetoric. So, let me see if I follow what you are writing about “zen”. Zen is something, but it is not definable. There can be “worship” of zen, but it is not zen. Ok. Aware of reality as it really is. Because most people are not. Because “real” reality is what a person sees, and not what is. If they look at the moon, but do not see the moon, it is because the moon isn’t real. It is really a ball of cheese. Or the face of their lover. Hmmm… this is getting confusing. Which one is the “real” real? Oh, wait. That is the point. There is no “real” real. Unless, of course, someone wants to say that “real” real is real. That cannot possibly happen- or, can it? Only the subjective “real” is real, not the objective “real”. I hope you do not apply this logic to crossing the street.

    Examine and test? Oh, yes. That only comes from zen and buddhas themselves. Or 1 Thessalonians 5:21. I wonder which came first?

    Dried dung? I like that. A master telling you flat out that the poop that they are slinging is so old that it is dried out. And you eat this up?

    From my readings and discussions with Buddhists, enlightenment is the final understanding of everything that matters. Most people, including them, see that as “achieving” contentment, and most likely bliss. After all, is pain is not “real” since they are not “real”, wouldn’t it be blissful to remember pain and not ever experience it again? They can then stop being “reborn”. Utopia has no place in the discussion, since Utopia usually refers to everyone achieving enlightenment. For that matter, what it really boils down to is that you yourself have to deny that you exist(?) and that the problems and temptations to make yourself the center of the universe are not real. Your suffering is not real. Neither are your temptations. Only you can figure out that you are not real. That is how you become the best you that can be. Then you will always be the you that you can be, but are not, since you are not.

    The miracle of the very life we are already living now. Powerful, eh? But what does it mean? Who believes in miracles? The top definition for “miracle” in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.” What does your particular brand of zen say about divine intervention? We have read your accounts of humans essentially being their own gods, so what about the divine? I mean, even you would have to agree that divine is above human, right? If men are gods, what are above the gods? And why consider it a miracle?

    From the Christian perspective, I can understand not wanting people to follow me. I want them to follow Christ. As you talked about your “first three decades”, people can know the Christian religion and say and follow all the right things without focusing on what is real and important. They can think that they have a personal relationship with God, but not really. Judas was a disciple as long as the other eleven. I am pretty sure he thought he was a Christian. I may not agree with cooking pots being holy, but I can understand it.

    “Hate speech”. My definition may be different from others. I did not use those words. You did. I said spewing hate because you may, on rare occasion, say something nice about some Christians. But your overall theme about the Christian thoughts is very negative. The overarching theme comes across as they are people who are living in archaic times and their thoughts and could not possibly be universal principles to be applied at all times. You do take some of our teachings as your own, but do not identify them that way. No matter what examples you may cite, I am sure you could site 20 more that are essentially saying “they are nice Neanderthals, but Neanderthals none-the-less”. Yes, I realize that you say your community, family, and friends are Christian. You may even very well be on good terms with them. My brother spews hate for everything he does not agree with or understand, and I am still on good terms with him. So, yes, that could be the case for you even if you are spewing hate. I think that you can have a rather subtle way of putting it at times. But I think you are throwing it out there. There are many ways that you could have the same ideas without demeaning others. You could express doubts, or express why you do not agree with something, or admit that you just flat out don’t understand something no matter how many different times you have read things or discussed them, without attempting to jockey for position in this age of equivocation as a form of logical fallacy. I think that you try to find a strand that you can pull on for any individual because you have become so disgusted with Christianity that you just want everyone to find that one string that they can pull on to pull them away from the God that you have rejected. I think that you have lost your way and you want everyone away from God, and you have patience. Enough patient to keep throwing pebbles at Christians until they are so fatigued that they lose their grip. Even though you admit that your own ideas and ideals do not follow logic, you also rarely emphasize that.

    Your first three decades saying all the positive things about Christ and the Bible? Where are those? Oh, you have spent (more than a few) years now spreading what you do not like about them across the world. Where can I find the first three decades of stuff? Is that as easily accessible?

    I am not trying to demonize you. I am hoping that is not an attempt at martyrdom. I believe that your thoughts about God are skewered. I wish that you would apply the logic that you say that you do. I wish that you would realize that we are more than logical beings. I wish the best for you. Not my best. Your best. For you. Even if you are not able to recognize it. You referred to two articles on why you stopped being a Christian. I have read those, even commented on them, but they do not really say why you stopped. I think that could be your best article yet. Why are you so unwilling to reveal what happened? Are you afraid that if you let it out in the open, you might realize that you were actually wrong?

    Me: “I have had many people read your articles. A lot of them do not agree with my beliefs or points of view, but we have a healthy respect for each other. Muslims, Hindus, agnostics, athiests, Jews, even a norse religion dude. None of them can figure your writing out.”
    You:”And none of them can figure me out? I find that hard to believe…but on second thought…maybe not so hard if they are reading with the same lens you’re using.”
    How does this make sense to you?

    Alternative thinking? Is that like the “alternative facts” that seems to be sweeping my country right about now?

    Another thing that would be nice is not to pick and choose what you respond to. It amazes me time and time again when I comment that you completely ignore some of the big ideas in there.

    You say that if I don’t like what I am seeing, that I could walk away. Thanks for the offer, but that is not going to happen. Is that a zen response? If you don’t want me to make comments, you could always close the ability to comment. Oh. You did start doing that, didn’t you? Or, you could always stop posting.

  3. Alejandro: That would seem to be the case on the surface, but a deeper understanding of it would be that one sets goals but one is not overly attached to them, so much so that your happiness or sadness depends on your achievement of the goal.

  4. Mr. Freethinker Rebuttal:

    Apologies for the comment-closing. That is not to prevent you from making comments. I installed security software on my blog and that was one of its features. Apparently, there is malware going around that targets the comments section of old blogs and inserts links to infected sites. So by default, the security software decided to go ahead and close comments sections of old posts that I had. I only found out what it did fairly recently as well, and found the reason why after some research.

    So as much as you’d like to think I did it to shut you up, well it’s not, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to comment at all.

    And frankly, if your goal were really to help me or to “wish for my best” as you put it, there’s always email which I also publish at the end of every article. If your aim were really to communicate with me, then closing the comments sections shouldn’t be such a hindrance.

    But I think you enjoy posturing and trying to convince the reading public what an illogical hate-spewing person I am. So no, you don’t send me email even if you claim to wish for my best. So pardon me if I don’t believe this little claim of yours. You wish for YOUR best and that is evident by how you wish to frame your reactions and your words to me.

    Re: picking and choosing — Well pardon me again but I try to answer as much as I can. If you claim not to understand some of what I say, then perhaps you can extend me the same benefit of the doubt as well because I don’t understand some of your objections as well — it’s not that I don’t agree with them — I don’t understand them and sometimes I just decide to leave them alone because I don’t see the point in belaboring an argument where I don’t see any. I’ll just leave it up to the reader to decide.

    You seem to have this expectation that I’m supposed to answer every point you make. Who are you? My thesis professor? Sorry, I don’t have that kind of time. This is not my bread and butter. I run a business and I have a family. I sometimes barely have time to meet my weekly writing deadline, much less answer my mail and comments. And your comments are so long that answering them sometimes takes more time than writing a single article.

    You’re lucky today because I’m on a short vacation and have some time to kill.

    But the short of it is this: I write without the overt expectation to “convert” people or to convince them of my views. What for? To gain money? fame? followers? admirers? No, I am quite secure with what I currently have and am. I write simply to share my ideas — to give others a glimpse into my thoughts — and yes, only a glimpse, for there is only so much one can show in a weekly column, and only so much that words can express. Some people find those ideas refreshing, inspiring or interesting. Good. Some people (like you) find them illogical, confusing, boring. Fine.

    My goal is just to do my thing — to write and put out my ideas as best as I can. What you do with them is your concern, but I am not going to kill myself to convince you.

    Now since I still have some time to spare…let’s see the rest of your comments:

    Your paragraph about zen — the one with a lot of “reals” doesn’t really make sense to me so I don’t really know how to answer it. I’ll just leave it alone.

    Which came first? That’s easy. The Buddha lived 500 years before Christ supposedly did. And you took 1 Thess 5:21 out of context just to make it appear like it was saying the same thing Buddha did.

    “And you eat this up?” — You obviously did not get the point. The zen response is to leave you alone until you do.

    The paragraph on your discussion with buddhists — ok, there is something there, but not quite. I might write more about this so maybe just hang on and try to see where my understanding differs from what you understand of them. What I gather is that you think it’s all a mind-trick, trying to convince the self that self doesn’t exist, or that pain isn’t real. It’s not as simple as that. I’ll deal with this in future writings.

    Miracles — another paragraph where I don’t get the point. When I say this, it’s not that I literally don’t get the point (although sometimes that’s the case as well) but you go off on a tangent that I think misses the original message completely. Discussing your tangent would be a waste of time.

    “I don’t want them to follow me. I want them to follow Christ” — Yeah a lot of Christians say this. I used to say this. But if you really think about it, what you should be saying is “I want them to follow what I believe about Christ.”

    Because in the final analysis, none of us really knows Christ. We only have this hazy concept in our minds of who Christ is based on different stories handed down through the centuries. So when you say “Christ,” it may not necessarily be the “Christ” in some other person’s mind, which may be shaped by different stories altogether. For example, your Christ and the Christ of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints may be two different things altogether.

    So you claim to follow Christ but they also claim to follow Christ, and yet you don’t agree with each other’s teachings. So who’s following who?

    Hate speech – you are belaboring this point and making it unnecessarily long-winded. I am simply saying that calling my articles as “hate” speech is a bit extreme. Compare what I write and what Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins writes about Christianity. Perhaps you will understand what real hate speech is.

    As for the image of me throwing pebbles at Christians, that’s an interesting image and it actually reveals more about you than about me. I mean if that’s what you’re so worried about, where’s your faith? You don’t trust in God to protect those whom he has called into his loving embrace? And on the contrary, if God has allowed those people to be tested by my pebbles, then who are you to complain about it? Are you going to question now why God allowed Satan to kill Job’s livestock and children and to give him boils? Because that’s certainly more than throwing a few pebbles but I don’t hear you complaining.

    On the positive things I said about Christianity — no I didn’t mean I had a Christian blog — because blogs weren’t invented yet. I mean, I was a youth leader, a worship leader, I sang in the choir, I witnessed to my friends about Christ, and so on, the whole shebang…

    On why I left Christianity…I think I made it clear that it was a long process. I don’t think I can point to any one event and say, this is it. If we go back to the unraveling analogy, I just kept pulling at strings until I noticed there was nothing there anymore. Perhaps a major point was being convinced that the Bible is not all that it’s propped up to be — which is the perfect and inspired word of God. I think that once I became convinced that it was simply a collection of writing by men (and that those who decided what went into the collection were also men), I stopped taking it as literally and as seriously as before. If you’re looking for that one event, maybe that’s a good place to start.

    Alternative facts? Lots of those in the Bible. Funny you should mention it.

    Happy now?

  5. Andy,
    Thank you for the time you took, especially about the comment closings.

    As far as being able to “know” anyone, yes, none of us can know another completely. This means that I, a finite being, do not know God, am infinite being, completely. As I do not know you completely, or you your wife and vica versa. That does not mean that you cannot know someone to some extent. Which is a point I think we would both agree on. We can also know things that another is not. For example, i know that you are not a buick. The same things can be said about God. There are things we can know about Him, and things we can know are not Him. Some of your conclusions about me are way off base. If my only concerns were only for you (which I did not state), yes, I did figure out a while back that I could send you an email, hope thatan email from another country passes your email spam filters, and that, like many peoples emails that are overpopulated, that you see it and read it. Or, like I did, I could assume that replying on a different and somewhat related post on your blog was as appropriate. My concern is also for your readers, who seem to get little to no alternative in your viewpoints.

    I do wish for my best for me, but I also wish you your best for you. “Little claim.” Can we get past stuff like this? “If you claim”. When I right my responses, I try to match the time of what you say. I see that is not going so well. I will try to pepper down my responses so that there is no claim for responses that escalate this trying to demean and belittle with ugly words and little minded thoughts. I see my “spewing hate ” as an accurate assessment of what is said. It seems to have upset you enough to have you respond by not believing my stated true intentions. I am sorry for saying things in such a way that has made you blind to the possibility that what i say is said with the best of intentions.

    This is not my bread and butter either. Not even my jelly or jam. I, too, have a business to run, and a family to love and provide for. I understand both of our time limitations. You state you do not write for fame, money, followers. If you re-read what you wrote, you said that you write to share your ideas, but never actually say why. Why do you share your ideas, and why your ideas are worth sharing. You claimed I was long winded and go off in tangents, but you spent enough time not really saying anything. Your goal is to “do your thing”. Your writings suggest that your thoughts go deeper than that. I know you will think that I am posturing, and, since most of communication is non-verbal, if you ever re-read my comments with a loving open heart as a narrator, I think you would have a much different viewpoint of what I wrote. You asked a while back if my son were joining a gang and getting beat up by them, would I not try to help him? The implication being that it would be an ugly mess done with the best of intentions? That is what I am trying to do here. I legitimately care for you and everyone of your readers. I see this philosophy of yours as being very destructive to you and them and I am stepping in to do what I can, street fighting an ugly situation with love for my fellow man. You may not believe it, and I do not know how old your kids are or what they have been through, but, parent to parent, I hope you can relate.

    Which came first, Buddha or God? Kind of trick question. God came first. The quote from Thess was recorded after Buddha. Or, after Buddha supposedly lived.

    I get the point. A consistent view would seem to not make comments and let everyone discover it for themselves, but, since you are not really arguing for it, no point in belaboring it.

    My “tangent” about miracles is something I don’t see as a tangent. You had a quote about miracles in your post. If your article was on elephants, and you mentioned a political election in that same article, that would seem to be your tangent, not mine. In this case, I think it was an important thing to bring up since your article was mainly about Zen, with references to Buddha and masters, and one if the quotes was about miracles.

    As I stated before, I want you (and your readers) to follow the truth. I want you to follow the Christ. I know that the Christ of the Bible is different than the LDS Christ. I want you to to follow the real Christ. To have a real relationship with Him, not blindly follow what other people say, including myself. God is more than a hazy concept. He is real. I want you to embrace the logic of the real God, but to go beyond the mind concept. A real relationship with a real being. The being that loved you before you were knitted in your mother’s womb. I want you to know God better than you know your wife or even yourself. I want you to include logic and go beyond it. And, even if I am completely wrong about God, I want you to know Him, not to follow me, no matter what I think.

    I have read and watched Dawkins and Hitchens (both of them). Richard and Christopher do spew hate. But, it is like saying that you only do cocaine. You should see the people on heroin.

    As far as the pebbles go, my faith is solid. I am not as concerned about myself or Christians, but those on the fence. My son is not a Christian. He can see some of your arguments, but like most people, takes them at face value. When he dives deeper into them and sees an alternative perspective, he realizes how little water they hold. I am trying to help you see the same thing. We have free will, and those how have not chosen have a right to see that. From my perspective, I don’t want people to make an eternal choice from just reading your blogs and the like without seeing another side.

    I am sorry about the tongue in cheek questioning about your Christian blogs. I know that you did not have them. But some of us only know you from what we see in your blogs. You talked about decades of talking like a Christian. We have not seen that side. So, if your “Christian” influence reached x number of people over that time period, how many people had your anti-Christian influence reached in it’s relatively short amount of time?

    On why you left Christianity, I will search your articles if you want me to. You pointed to a very specific time that your were trying to figure out God’s will. You consulted the Bible and your local leaders. Maybe even Christian friends. And something seemed to go horribly wrong. What happened? You said previously that you would not give specifics because it involved people who would be hurt be revealing too much. It seems like most people who are the most vocally antiGod, especially anti-Christian, claimed to have been Christian at one point. They spend a lot of time and energy hating someone that doesn’t supposedly exist. Ironic?

    I would love to hear about these supposed alternative facts that are in the Bible, and see how you use that standard compared to other things that you believe.

    As far as my true intentions, I will send you that email, most specifically about your turning from Christianity. Most of your posts are about general thoughts, and, if this one is that personal, I will honor your request to keep it out of the public eye.

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