Tag: Zen

If You Meet the Buddha, Kill Him

J.D. Salinger hit the jackpot in 1951. At age 32, he published The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about an alienated teenager named “Holden Caulfield,” and it became an immediate bestseller. He was a success.

But the novel met with considerable resistance from parents who thought it was subversive. Perhaps more cutting, the literature establishment didn’t take the work seriously and leveled pointed criticism at it. Salinger grew bitter at the criticism, so bitter that biographers say it drove him into his famed reclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire.

I’ve always found Salinger’s bitterness odd. It’s almost like, through the alienated character of Holden Caulfield, he scorned the offerings of modern culture, but then became disillusioned when success within that modern culture didn’t yield up happiness.

It was an illogical response given Holden Caulfield’s perspective on life. Holden wouldn’t have cared about the haughty literature establishment.

It was also the exact opposite of Albert Camus’ advice in his 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, for eternity. But Camus said Sisyphus is happy because he understands his fate and understands he can’t avoid it, so he ceases to expect that he’ll ever succeed in getting the rock over the top. In other words, he negates all hope. It’s frustrated hope that makes the punishment hard, Camus says, so if hope is negated, the torture ceases. It might be absurd, Camus said, but it’s our lot in life.

If Salinger was like Sisyphus, or even like Holden, he would have written the novels without regard to what people thought. He would have received the acclaim without self-congratulation. He would have received the criticism without disillusion.


The Anti-Camus

When I was … Read the rest

Three Lesser-Known Figures in the Zen Tradition

All three emphasized the Tao side of Zen

I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone has heard of Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) and Lao-Tzu, the semi-historical founders of Buddhism and Taoism.

A lot of people have probably also heard of Bodhidharma, the 28th patriarch of Buddhism (and first patriarch of Zen Buddhism) who brought Indian metaphysics to China in 520 AD, where it started to mix with Taoism, leading to the entirely new phenomenon that we call “Zen.” See D. T. Suzuki, “History of Zen,” in Essays in Zen Buddhism.

But most of us in the West haven’t heard of the hundreds of other philosophers and monks in the Zen tradition whose insights and lives deserve attention.

Now, as a Catholic, I don’t believe these men merit the attention of the saints, but they do merit attention. They represent the highest attainment of natural philosophy.(FN)

By “natural philosophy,” I primarily mean “philosophy without any revelation.”

The Zen tradition is almost entirely deprived of Christian revelation. More troubling, its ontology is monistic, meaning that it presumes there is not even a transcendent being (God) that could impart revelation.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Zen “atheistic,” but it wouldn’t be inaccurate either.

As far as philosophical traditions go, you could argue that Zen is the one tradition that, through its premises and practices, has done everything possible to deprive itself of grace. I’m not saying it is deprived of grace (and I’m inclined to think that, despite its unknowing attempts to eliminate grace, it has received it in spades nonetheless), but any grace it receives is applied solely on the natural plane.

Yet Zen’s insights are enormous and important. Its insights are often wrong and incomplete, but that’s unavoidable in a tradition that denies one-half of existence … Read the rest

How to Live Like a Zen Master

Lessons from spiritual adepts from various traditions tell us the same thing: Cultivate the eyes of a child

In the seventh century, Hung Jen, the fifth patriarch of Chinese Zen Buddhism, neared death. In order to choose a successor, he asked each monk to compose a verse that testified to the monk’s Zen insight and post it on the wall. Shen Hsiu, the illustrious heir apparent, composed the following:

The body is the Bodhi-tree,

The mind is like a clear mirror standing.

Take care to wipe it all the time,

Allow no grain of dust to cling to it.

An uneducated kitchen worker named Hui Neng disagreed with the verse, and wrote beside it:

The Bodhi is not like a tree,

The clear mirror is nowhere standing.

Fundamentally not one thing exists:

Where then is a grain of dust to cling?

The Patriarch favored Hui Neng’s verse and appointed him successor. Zen at this point split into two schools, the Northern School (under Shen Hsiu) and the Southern School (under Hui Neng). The Southern School became the dominant school and the doctrines now associated with Zen are from the Southern School. Although this popular account of a famous split in early Zen is often disputed the key lesson remains: don’t wipe the mirror.

Pure Self is Still Self

Zen as it developed in the Southern School has always disdained mirror wiping because, by emphasizing the mirror, the “mirror wiper” asserts that he or she is renouncing the self in order to create a pure self — with the result that either way he or she is focused on him or herself. His or her self may become more pure, but it continues to stand strong.

It’s the religious version of having your cake and eating it, too.

Zen tries … Read the rest