Everything Zen? I Don’t Think So.

30 Dec

It’s easy to love the fanatic; their passion and drive speak to everything that we don’t have. However, no one stays in that state forever, because the demands of real life eventually pull us away. So should we shun the moment or embrace it?

I was reading a blog by Bryan Wagner titled You and Constructive Zen, in which he talks about the importance of saying no. Learning to realize that you have too much on your plate and that you can’t help another is important to keeping yourself balanced. In other words, the middle path between asceticism and sybarism that Buddha was going on about.

Let me just preface this by saying I’m not a Buddhist, but I’ve struggled with the spiritual high–the trying to achieve it and the disappointment coming down from it. I think that’s why the idealized Buddhist monks act they way they do–if you don’t have any belongings apart from your robe and begging bowl, then naturally, you’ve got little to worry about losing. However, I do want to emphasize “idealized,” because the Buddhist monks I’ve met have real problems, too. There’s politics at the temple/monastery, some smoke like chimneys (so they have to be getting the money for cigarettes somewhere), and others are struggling with their college classes (that someone has to pay for).

Does that mean that clerics have to be ascetic all the time? No, they’re real people–and that’s the point! Sooner or later, you have to come out of your meditation and have a meal, go to the bathroom, or sit on a corner and beg… which is not a pleasant experience. I was talking to an American Zen Buddhist (grew up in that faith) about his going to temple, and he just looked at me confused, because in his tradition, going to temple is the antithesis of what you’re supposed to do. You might get together to meditate, but normally, you’re supposed to be by yourself. In a sense–fundamentalist Buddhism.

But there are limits to what you can achieve by yourself, which is why the greatest spiritual highs I’ve had have been on retreats, camps, things that force you to get away from the demands of the real world to focus on those moments. I’ve broken into song in an open field, wept openly at the edge of the corn, and felt the touch of the Creator in those quiet communal moments. But it doesn’t last–it’s not supposed to.

My favorite interpretation of the story of the Sacrifice of Issac (Genesis 22) is that when his father was lifting up the knife to kill Issac, the angel was holding the knife back; which meant that Abraham couldn’t see the angel, but Issac could. In the next chapter, Issac was blinded–so one interpretation suggested that after you see an angel, Issac was “blinded” to the normal affairs of the world, which is why he couldn’t see that Esau was so bad later on, but also why he just followed in his father’s footsteps (sometimes literally). He lived in the spiritual high so much that it made him blind to the duties of being a patriarch of a wealthy family.

So… be constructively Zen; don’t fear the connection with the Infinite, but don’t beat yourself up for “falling short of the Glory of God.” Find the spiritual in the mundane and understand that you are fallible about to become transcendent.

How did I do? Did I capture the Middle Path well? Do I have no clue what I’m talking about? Let me know in the comments below!

4 Responses to “Everything Zen? I Don’t Think So.”

  1. Anthony Garner December 30, 2020 at 10:17 am #

    Hmm… Yes you are right of course. Ideally I would like to disconnect from physical reality and spend my time in nirvana.

  2. Anthony Garner December 30, 2020 at 10:32 am #

    ” Find the spiritual in the mundane and understand that you are fallible about to become transcendent.”

    Yes, an important point. perhaps we can and should transcend life while actually continuing to live it. Perhaps we can achieve that wonderful feeling of transcendence permanently and every day. Even with the begging bowl on the street or sitting on the lavatory. I have spent a lifetime seeking transcendence, for much of that time barely understanding what it was i was seeking.

  3. Ankur Mithal December 30, 2020 at 10:52 am #

    To each his or her own, I suppose, as long as you are sensitive to the collective rules the world has made and respect others.

  4. くぅ,Qoo December 30, 2020 at 12:00 pm #

    In October 2020, I blogged “The beauty of Zen and Wabi-cha and kaiseki cuisine.” Comments from Japan.

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