So is Zen real? My recent feeling is to upgrade the answer from “maybe” to “quite possibly”, after 57 years of often lukewarm practice. I feel my life has been enhanced because my practice has deepened it without necessarily getting me anywhere spiritually. It is better NOT to believe in a practice, keeping a strong skepticism about any possible “enlightenment”. This skepticism enhances and concentrates one’s efforts of understanding life and getting clear about things, one aspect of the practice. Commitment consists of never giving up. As it turns out this practice is a specifically Western approach which I think is appropriate to those leading busy lives in the Western part of the world. It is closest to the Soto School of Japanese Zen which is the school of “gradual enlightenment”. The other main Japanese school, the Rinzai School uses Koans and strenuous efforts in an attempt to induce “sudden” enlightenment. Possibly there could be a Western practice based on the Rinzai School. I think it is partly a matter of personality. If one has a type “A” personality, pursuing goals passionately and rigorously, the Rinzai model MIGHT be appropriate. However, the Rinzai approach probably requires giving up all other aspects of one’s life, such as making a living. One probably would need to join a religious community of like-minded people, which is OK if one is inclined that way. The approach I’m advocating here does not require giving up one’s chosen life, will probably enhance it, and quite possibly lead to a deep spiritual understanding.
In what I’ve said above there is (at least) one possible point of confusion: I may have made it sound like the Japanese Soto approach is not very serious. If you’re left with this impression, it can be dispelled by reading Hard Core Zen by Brad Warner, an American, compelled by religious passion, who went to Japan and learned enough Japanese to work in Japanese sci-fi monster movies (which incidentally are great fun). Warner practiced for years under a Soto Zen master eventually becoming sufficiently aware to be certified a master in his own right. His book is absolutely first rate if one is not put off by his irritatingly colloquial English which is probably part of his shtick. So Soto Zen practice is by no means laid back. However, the Western practice I will be explicating in this blog is INDEED laid back and can easily be charged with a lack of seriousness. The only way to dispel this charge is to ask, does it work? The only proof of the pudding is in the eating. I’m talking here about my own practice, stumbled into inadvertently and almost by accident. The only credit I can claim is a stubborn (lazy) refusal to heed all the warnings about why it couldn’t possibly work. Is it working for me? There are slight hints that it might be. I FEEL that it is. In the face of a personality of great diffidence I recently now feel an outrageous certainty about some things and am willing to be dogmatic. Also, I actually feel an obligation that I must share some insights, a feeling in line with the Mahayana Buddhist idea of the Bodhisattva. Since I’m definitely not on the brink of “ultimate Samadhi”, I can only be an apprentice Bodhisattva, pointing out stumbling blocks and insights I’ve encountered in this kind of practice and using this blog as a Zen art in an attempt to improve my writing skills.
4 thoughts on “A Zen Path”
This year, at the age of 63, I decided that I wanted to be more Zen like. Not even knowing what that even means, or how it would help my life spiritually or my work, I’m trying, on an offhanded way, to learn. It’s a slow learning process for me….
Offhand is good. Just don’t give up.
as being new to your blog (and enjoying it so far!), I have to ask about the book “the Tao of Pooh”. this book seems to me to embody a Zen spirit by taking a whimsical approach to the whole thing–I loved it and have found it almost sufficient for my quest.
Thanks for the comment. I looked at that book a while ago, but remember little about it. Certainly, the childlike nature of Pooh is one we could well emulate. Whimsical is good if it helps to relax one’s grip of seriousness. Whimsical is bad if there is no serious intensity lurking underneath. But who can say one way or the other?