Zen developed from a Mahayana Buddhist divergence in China in the 6th century called Chuan. It was another effort to acquire spirituality, enlightenment and salvation removed from what Buddhism's founder, Siddartha's Gautama, intended. Chuan demanded no intellectual effort, which is convenient for many. Chuan spokespersons spoke of reality as nothing more than the immediate present. For them there was neither past nor future – which didn't prevent them from making an effort at maintaining themselves as an organized sect. They continued with their group identity, seeking enlightenment through an immediacy of mystical inspiration, while supporting themselves by menial labor. Chuan Buddhism moved to Japan in the 12th century, where it was revised and renamed Zen.
Zen Buddhism was an adaptation by Samurai Warriors. It appealed to the rough and uneducated Samurai, who focused on physical discipline and the martial arts. Samurai warriors in combat didn't escape from the horror of slaughter, but after this horror they found in Zen what they believed was a cleansing of the mind. Zen intellectuality of the Samurai warrior held that life was an illusion, that killing was illusory and no worse than other activities, and that dying was nothing. Their Zen held that other intellectuality that had entered their mind was clutter that was best eliminated. Zen was not to make a contribution to the growth of scientific thought.
Some other intellectuality had found its way into Zen, the Samurai having accepted elements of China's Taoism and Japan's Shinto religion to their Buddhism, calling it "Way of the Warrior," in a word: Bushido. This held warrior honor as the only worthy truth. This honor included honesty, sincerity, frugality, stoicism and loyalty to one's landlord commander. Femininity was shameful and women counted for little. Love for a woman was inferior to the pure love one was supposed to have for one's comrade-in-arms. The greatest warrior was to seek death in service.
Zen migrated to the United States but without the concept of life as an illusion or killing as an illusion making the journey. Zen in the US was watered down to a belief in living for the present, as in the idea that there is no other possible reality than what is right now. "Right now is all-important," a Zen enthusiast has written in his blog HinesSight. "Dwelling here and now, in this reality, letting go of all the accidental things that arise in our minds, is what I mean by 'opening the hand of thought.'"
If we didn't think of the future we wouldn't rise in the morning and make ourselves useful to ourselves or others, and farmers wouldn't plant crops or feed their livestock. A follower of Zen in the United States might water down his Zen to what is real enough: that the present should have some consideration in our lives, but this watering down is an act equal to acknowledging Zen contains clutter that it purports to avoid.
How is this Zen proverb for silly clutter: "Even a good thing isn't as good as nothing." A quote from the Japanese Zen teacher Koun Yamada (1907-89) makes more sense: "The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something." We do better at public speaking when we lose our self-consciousness while focusing on our message and the comfort of our audience. But how many in the US who have arrived there have heard of Koun Yamada or have given much thought to Zen intellectuality, or as he put it: "practice." In sports, people unite with their teammates and focus their minds on a ball of some sort, but they can't well forget about themselves. Maneuvering requires self-awareness. If we didn't have it we would be crashing into things, literally and figuratively (not unlike candidate Trump occasionally)
. Koun Yamada gave us more clutter.
Here some Zen for you: an act of Zen is forgetting about Zen.
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.