Thursday, January 20, 2005

Late Winter; Drifting fog, The Lake is clouded.

I have been researching a lot into Zen in the last few days. I have always seen and felt the D.T.Suzuki side of Zen. You know - the part of Zen that immediately connects to you. The part of you which speaks of instant action, instant nirvana, of freedom of the senses and actions. Yup, the part that feels like hippism. Well a lot of it connects to me too. I romanticise about the discipline of Zen way of life; about the ideas that are so powerful that they cannot be spoken for speech destroys the very ideas it tries to explain.

Anyways, this last month I decided that it is time to take a critical look into the whole Zen religion and how it is spreading in the West. What I have ended with is a lot more confusion than I started with. I realised that I was too naive to think that just because the root idea of Zen might be desirable the whole religion itself would be sacrosanct and above reproach, for after all the disciples do make the religion. More importantly I was faced with a question on what is really so attractive about Zen to me?

This question is important because I do not feel attracted to Buddhism the same way I feel attracted to Zen. My normal answer to this question was that Zen is a religion rooted in everyday life. A religion where you practice it, not by some fancy mumbo-jumbo (or so I thought), but by living life everyday doing one's karma. However in time (and after reading a lot of essays - which is supposedly very not Zen) I feel that maybe it is my attraction to Japanese history that makes me like Zen.

I like the whole samurai honour thing - even though I have a lot of reservations about the caste system itself. Maybe it's the Indian history in me where honour and pride took highest place. Whatever it be I am always enamoured by all the different ceremonies and the different arts of Japan. The only issue is the question whether I am only attracted to the saccharine version (the romantic version in the books and the movies)?

How does all this tie in with Zen? The thread I follow with Japan is the same thread I follow with Zen. Without knowing the people practising it, without actually seeing the religion in action I am attracted to it. So what I am really attracted to? The image of Zen that I think is right? If so would it be a religion? Would it not be just a philosophy? How does a religion whose roots exist in Buddhism make sense of the samurai code? How does it support war and Anti-Semitism (as happened in WWII)?

Lots of questions with no answer. Even more so because for answers you need to look towards books or "gurus". How do we know they are right? How do know that the "Wise Man" is not just another car salesman telling you exactly what you want to hear? Paranoia?

I am still looking up the material so I might indeed have some answers soon...or not.

One more monologue, one that is basically scattered all over the place. Very Un-Zen-like. And I have more to say about mentors, gurus and babas. I guess it can wait.


Ranjit Nair said...

Most books construct a thick hedge around any philosophy, however 'Zen In The Art Of Archery' by Eugene Herrigel is one of the better ones.

I presume that each one of us experiences Zen in some form. That feeling of euphoria when a problem is solved, that indescribable feeling of happiness on meeting a loved one, the wonder of experiencing nature at its best (or worst). I believe the key is to absorb that wonder into everyday activities : to make that the norm rather than the exception. That's Zen to me.

Easier said than done :).

Anonymous said...

Nice piece Brij. Certainly anything but all over the place - in fact it is highly patterned. Perhaps people like you and me should stop asserting modesty and actually practice it!;)
My limited understanding of early Japan is that Bushido is more Shinto than Buddhism, which got there from China & Korea. Shinto did make it easier for the people to assimilate Buddhism.
Regardless, it is sometimes dangerous and misleading to have more than a balanced notion of any people/culture. Although the samurai were disbanded from their traditional status, Bushido assimilated itself into the modern Japanese army during the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century. Japanese people for long (perhaps still do) believed that the Emperor is a descendant of a line that can be traced to the Heavens. And that the world, especially the Eastern Hemisphere, must bow before the Emperor.
The code of honour was misconstrued perhaps as the need for Japan to assert itself. What better way to prove your mettle than to start a war of conquest against Korea, and China. In "peacetime" assertion through other imperialist means perhaps - through commerce and industry.

The beauty of a philosophy lies in its application. The beauty of the application lies in its intent. The beauty of the intent lies with the human. Its perhaps interesting that those adopting a philosophy seem to assimilate it better than those who inherit/"own" it. There's a fine line between using and abusing. Inheritors break that line often. Adopters seldom do.


Anonymous said...

"Rest, Neo. The answers are coming."