Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What the heck is Zen?

Tolerance and empathy are two admirable qualities and ignorance is a vast and endemic characteristic of the human condition. It is difficult to remain empathetic and tolerant with people who live in states of denial and ignorance, persuaded they know intimately what they clearly don’t, yet bulwark themselves against becoming educated. It’s a test of patience and compassion to relate to such people but in all fairness it’s probably unrealistic to expect the uneducated and ignorant to suddenly overcome these failings, without having an open mind. After all (as pointed out in a recent post) “…people are far less concerned with truth than they were with finding evidence to support their beliefs, true or not.”

Having studied and practiced Zen for more than forty years now, plus having a formal education from one of the foremost theological seminaries in the world, I imagine I know (perhaps mistakenly) what Zen is and is not. Recently I decided to pursue a new educational process entailing social media to broaden the reach of Dharma Space. It’s tough sailing for an old dog to learn new tricks, and I’m still in process. One of the associated tangents of this new quest took me into reddit: a social networking site that prides themselves as “the front page of the internet” yet culls out posting with thought police guarding the front door.

The really obvious glitch here is that the Internet (if nothing else) is supposed to be an open medium that promotes communications across the globe, thus stimulating the freedom to distribute and modify creative works in the form of content by using the Internet as the voice of the people. Freedom of global communications is not consistent with thought police who know nothing about Zen but nevertheless barred Dharma Space entrance into their club, claiming as justification, that Zen is a religion.

The relevant question is thus: is Zen a religion? So we must return to basics with a definition of religion which is, “A communal structure for enabling coherent beliefs focusing on a system of thought which defines the supernatural, the sacred, the divine or of the highest truth.” Since the father of Zen defined Zen as “not thinking” there is no fit between these two definitions. Many remain ignorant of this misfit but cling to their dogma nevertheless. One of the confusing points is the ordinary way for labeling Zen as “Zen Buddhism” and since Buddhism is a religion, the supposition is that Zen is a branch on the religious tree of Buddhism in the same fashion that Protestants are a branch on the religious tree of Christianity. So what’s the truth of the matter? Now we come to the language problem (as always). The word Zen is a Japanese word. Before Zen moved to Japan there was China, where it was first known as Chán, which was derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna (translated as “absorption” or “meditative state.”) The Pāli word was/is Jhāna, the Vietnamese word is Thiền, and Seon in Korean.

Zen encourages everyone to look within for happiness and attainment of the enlightenment of Buddha. Many renowned and well respected Zen masters did not know how to read or write, yet they gained and taught enlightenment effortlessly. Zen teaches, or rather prods, the mind to look beyond the realm of perception and comprehend universal truth, beginning with the question, “who am I?” And it has two goals: to achieve enlightenment, and to become a Bodhisattva, or compassionate being, one in mind and spirit so you can become one with the Universe. A Bodhisattva has only this one purpose: to teach universal unity.

The practice of Zen/dhyāna is established as one of the steps on the Eight Fold path of the Buddha but here is the kicker: the term dhyāna is found in recorded history around 7,000 years ago, whereas the Buddha lived approximately 2,500 years ago. I already wrote about this in a post “The real deal” so, I realize that I’m repeating myself. However some review is good. The last three steps of the Eight Fold Path are grouped together (package deal) to achieve Samadhi: a spiritual state of consciousness. The last three are: Right effort, Right mindfulness (the practice that is now very popular and goes by the handle of MBSRMindfulness Based Stress Reduction) and Right concentration (dhyāna), used to suppress the five hindrances in order to enter into Samadhi. Zen is an instrument employed (the same one used by the Buddha) for developing wisdom by cultivating insight to examine the true nature of phenomena with direct cognition. This leads to cutting off delusions, realizing the Dharma and, finally, self-awakening. The five hinderance/obstacles are (1) Sensory desire, (2) all kinds of thoughts related to wanting to reject feelings of hostility, resentment, hatred and bitterness, (3) heaviness of body and dullness of mind which drag one down into disabling inertia and thick depression, (4) worry (the inability to calm the mind) and (5) a lack of conviction or trust that self awakening is possible.

I am aware that I am repeating myself and probably boring those who already know this, but ignorance reigns supreme and besides I enjoy the improbable task of trying to break through ignorance. According to the moderators at reddit, “Nobody cares.” I would like to believe that humanity still does care about a transformation that could reshape our world into something less than the Hell it’s growing into without this awareness.
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