Sunday, September 25, 2011
Zen and the Art of Enlightenment
I have been revisiting Zen philosophy lately. The key theme in Zen is that to become the enlightened being, one must know their true self, one’s true character. During my College Days, reading Zen was a frustrating and elusive experience until I realized that my true nature was not to become enlightened. I was not the Zen type you see.
Besides, there is one thing I never liked in reading in Zen beliefs is how often the teachers hit their students. It was very telling in an old tale where the monk asked his master some obscure question and was hit in reply. The master said "If I do not hit you for that question the other masters will laugh at me."
Hitting is part of being a Zen teacher. Being hit is part of being a Zen student. Yet hitting in and of itself does not lead to enlightenment, nor does it not lead to enlightenment. It merely is what Zen teachers do. Part of their true nature, rather their expected role. Pity the poor Zen master.
But there are some nice ideas that you can acquire from Zen. In Buddhist thought, there is this mention of being and becoming - of the action and the object, the thought and the thinker. It all seems to come down to two natures - things and actions which is summed in the two words - being and becoming. Things exist or they are coming into existence, though to be coming into existence is to exist. The action is not the thing and the thing is not the action. Everything is. Also everything does. (Action does not always imply movement.) Confused? Get a Zen primer.
Anyhow the main message of Zen, and most or all religions for that matter, is to grasp your true nature by self- realization. That wouldn't be a bad motto to have sitting on a desk or on the wall to see regularly.
Sometimes I say "know thyself" and sit there with no thoughts and then go, "now what?" But if thinking is imperative (and thinking is part of my true character) then it is always possible to come up with things that are not part of my personality and even some ideas of things that are. The ruse is that these ideas can be effortless and observable, they do not have to be philosophical.
When trying to realize your true nature it is easy to look at the affectations picked up over the years, character traits, and say that is part of my true temperament. While such persona will point to some aspect of our nature (there must be a reason why we have adopted them) they are often shallow. Left long enough, they become part of who we think we are.
Yet it is these basic qualities - are the underlying core that defines who we really are. Our perceptions of ourselves, our social situations and our accomplishments create judgments we bring upon ourselves. But what is it that we really are? Being and Becoming? Food for thought, eh?