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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Zen and Politics

This one could just as easily be called, "Zazen and Politics," or "Zen and the Person-ality," but I'm writing partly in response to a misperception I perceive in some of the responses to my previous posts, and partly in response to a tempest in a teapot I see going on in a couple of other people's blogs. It's not so much about politics as it is about all of the things that are important to us as people, and how that relates to Zen practice, or to zazen, at least from my perspective.

When I qualify my perceptions in that way, please realize that although I first sat zazen over twenty-five years ago, I've only been back doing it regulary for a little over a year at this point; and although when I began sitting again it immediately felt like something I should do and needed to do, only in the past couple of months have I started to notice an overall difference in my perspective, outside of the practice itself. So I could find myself in disagreement with my (current) self, in the future. Regardless I think there are a couple of points worth making.

I have had a couple of responses to my angrier anti-fascist tirades indicating that zazen should have made me calmer, or that I should've realized there are things I can't change, etc. Fellow Zennies will probably note the error here, and yes these comments were made by non-sitters who want to tell me what the benefits of practice should be. The first thing I have to say to these people is that if you want to see what the benefits of zazen are, you need to try it yourself and not just read about it in a book, because only having begun to receive those benefits, I still cannot verbalize them very well (although I have to try, here). Zazen is not transcendental meditation or New Age white light delusion. The Tibetans sometimes visualize themselves as the Buddha. In zazen I try not to visualize anything at all. I try to be just a guy sitting on a cushion in a room. Whatever thoughts come and go, they come and go and I try not to attach to them. If I'm angry, I try to realize that I'm angry and get a perspective on the anger; but see, I'm not really trying to do anything at all. I'm just sitting there. I learned early on that trying to stop the mind is ridiculous and impossible; the mind does what it does. See why trying to talk about zazen sucks? It's impossible. Any description is in error, by its definition, since it requires language, and the quality of immediate experience is beyond language.

That's enough of trying to describe zazen for non-practitioners. Every week when someone does a "reading" at our sits, I cringe, because I've just finished sitting and only once every blue moon does the quality of the reading even begin to approximate the quality of the experience. So if you want to sit, sit. If you don't or won't or can't, just try not to judge it, because believe me, you don't understand.

The point is, my zazen practice has very little if anything to do with the political content of this blog. I have just recently posted a disclaimer over in the sidebar, hopefully to prevent anyone's projecting my own personal views, beliefs and opinions on to anyone I endorse otherwise, especially the Zen people. Our Zen group had a mini-retreat last weekend; at least two of the nine people who came to sit all day admitted to being some sort of Christian, or at least attending Christian services. And these are the people who are actually practicing zazen, not just walking around claiming to be Buddhists or talking about Zen on the internet. If you asked me who is more qualified to talk about Zen, the ones who sit, or the ones who just read and talk, my answer should be obvious.

Honestly, I think you could be a Christian for life, and still practice zazen and get the benefit from it; and here I would distinguish between zazen the practice, and Zen the religion or philosophy. Because a philosophy is just an attempt to articulate in words things that (in my preception) can't be articulated or even conceptualized within the human mind; a religion is an attempt to reduce the "meaning" of the universe to the level of a man. Both are doomed to fail. Zen is unique among these "belief" systems in that it admits its own inadequacey. It is, to repeat the abused cliche, a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself. The more I practice zazen, the less I want to read or even hear about Zen. Experience is what it is, exactly and at that moment.

The history of Zen is replete with examples of contradictory philosophies. It is true that most of the Zen practitioners I know personally tend not to be fans of the Bush administration, but I would never begin to project that tendency to all practitioners across the board. In current times it is more likely due to that administration's ties to the Christian Reich and the suppression of dissent, that tends to make the practitioners of alternative philosophies or religions "dissenters." But look at the Zen "masters" who supported total and complete nationalistic warmongering in Japan during World War II. Leaving aside the whole issue of the corruption of Zen in Japan in those years, how can that be reconciled with the pacifist attitude I see among most practitioners here and now? Or look at the historical link between Zen and the samurai and the warrior class in Japan. Zen (except for some martial arts schools) probably has more links with pacifism in this country due to the proclivities of its early exponents here, than due to anything intrinsic in the practice itself.

It seems from my limited experience that zazen should make you better at whatever it is you do. I notice in myself an increased clarity of mind and maintenance of perspective, and that took a while to develop. I do see things more clearly than I did a year ago, and I tend to realize more that I'm feeling something, when I'm feeling it. That doesn't stop me from having emotions. I do think that being able to "drop back" and see myself as well as my environment, and myself in my environment, helps me to avoid being ensnared in illusion. That's true whether the illusion is intentionally projected by others, or whether it comes from my own inevitable filtering of experience through my senses and my mind. So whereas before I may have had a vague feeling that something was wrong, now I can see clearly that something is wrong, and I can tell you about it. I can also see myself operating in that context.

So, the "political" writings on here are expressions of the Bob J. personality. Zazen does not make that personality go away; and if elements of what I perceive in zazen are filtering through to the Bob J. personality, that take time. The only difference is that I see that the personality is there (sometimes). Sometimes I just observe that personality. At the deepest level at which we maintain individuality the personality is different from the self. At a deeper level, the self disappears entirely. But as I've said before, someone still has to go out and act in the world, and that someone is the personality. That personality may change over time, but in a way it is an independent entity. For me, the benefit of zazen is still about perspective.

So can you be a Christian or a Republican or a samurai and still be doing zazen correctly? The answer seems to me, absolutely. The other impetus I had to finally write this particular blog entry came from a discussion in the blog of a Zen teacher I revere, in which the Zen master came out with some extremely (politically) naive opinions about the end of the Cold War, U.S. dominance, and apparently a worldwide police state. And this is from someone who has practiced zazen for a lifetime, and who helped reform Zen in Japan from the rotten mess it was in after WW II. The lesson I have learned from this, I hope, is that Zen will never make me infallible. It will never make my opinions right. Although I feel that I now can see more clearly, and I am more convinced than ever that the U.S. citizenry couldn't be more deluded and shallow if they were drugged, I have to realize that that is the perception and opinion of Bob J., and not the judgment of God or the universe.

One of the ironies in in my authorship of this blog is that I really do not consider myself a political person. I have always voted because I believe that if you don't at least vote and try to do what's right, even if the whole mechanism winds up being hijacked by you-know-who, you don't have a right to complain; however, although I've never voted Republican, I haven't always voted Democrat. If the current political decision was the typical Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee decision we've usually had, I wouldn't be so outspoken or emphatic, and this blog might not exist. If my Zen practice has anything to do with my "political" writings here, it is that it helps me see through the fog. And boy is it foggy out there. I'm looking thorought the fog at the iceberg, and meanwhile everyone's still drinking and dancing and the band is still playing. There are some Democrats rearranging the deck chairs. So here we go.

Postscript: In a totally irrelevant move, I'm giving you this link to my favorite Super Bowl commercial. Everyone's looking at it, so it may be slow to load. Just click here:

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