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Friday, June 14, 2013
Zen ...

At the zendo the other day, our sensei gave a talk about enlightenment. He made the point that many people are attracted to Zen because they want and hope to achieve “enlightenment”, as a big whoop, a quasi-orgasmic experience of spiritual realization. Then he went on to say that “it’s not like that”; you can’t achieve enlightenment by work and study. It’s not like getting in shape to do a triathlon or bench-press 300 pounds. Enlightenment is more of a “surprise me” thing. It will happen, or not, in its own way, at its own time.

Our sensei took many of his thoughts from a book by Korean Zen teacher Zeung San, called “Wanting Enlightenment is a Big Mistake”. I pretty much agreed with our local teacher (I don’t always, read on) and with the title that Seung San chose for his book. I take a rather Calvinistic approach to Zen. I.e., that Enlightenment is more a matter of “pre-destination”, or something other than “good works”. From the Buddhist perspective, “pre-destination” might be roughly equivalent to “karma” and the “momentum” of past lives. I would go even further than that. Taking a page from St. Paul, I would proclaim that Enlightment is a matter of grace from a transcendent universal power – i.e., from God. We can’t attain true kensho or Nirvana by ourselves; we are inherently flawed, subject to chaos, entropy and decay. We apples that don’t fall far from the tree, i.e. the imperfect universe that spawned us. Our only hope for the Pure Truth is in and through relationship, relationship with the ultimate power and principle behind all “being”.

So as to express this thought, I offered our sangha a quickly made up haiku during the discussion session. This probably did’t fulfill all the technical requirements of a haiku, i.e. the 5-7-5 form. In a way, it’s more of an anti-haiku. But nonetheless, here is my little Calvinistic anti-haiku regarding the world of Zen and its fascination with “enlightenment”:

There is no Enlightment
A bug walks across a zendo floor
that has just been cleaned.

Yes, we did clean our zendo that morning. And yes, after we finished, I laughed when I saw a bug walking across the floor, oblivious to all our efforts to bring out the so-called cleanly purity that allegedly exists beneath the layers of dust and grime. The sensei said in his talk that all of us “are already Buddha”, we are all are enlightned – but most of us just don’t know it, akin to the clear mirror beneath a layer of dust. This is a standard Zen maxim. Calvinist Zen student that I am, I said that there is no purity, there is no Enlightenment in all or any of us, just waiting to find its way from beneath the rubble. The rubble is us, it’s all we got when alone. We may be perfect, but only realize perfection when in relationship — when in relationship with the ultimate power and principle of all “being”.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:40 pm      

  1. Jim, I agree with you on what you say here, but I think for myself, I’d expand a part. I agree that Enlightenment for Buddhists is similar to something “given”, i.e., grace, as Christians may put it; it’s most likely something that cannot be “acquired” but is “given” by the higher being, however one conceives of that being.

    One thing I’ve never really understood is having a “relationship” with a superior being or God or whatever term one wants to use for the “highest being”. This concept is one that escapes me. I find it difficult to “relate” to some kind of abstract concept that has no being. Perhaps it’s that I’m not evolved enough or that I just don’t have enough of an intellectual approach to life and people.

    For me, the approach to a “relationship” with “God” (if one wants to use that term and I’m using it here for quick convenience) is to look around right here on earth where God may be manifest.

    I can see what God would be manifest in nature, and most especially in the people who come into our lives. I’ve always tho’t that if one wants to see God here on this earth, just look at the person next to one, across from one, the person who comes into one’s life.

    Very often, seeing God in the people in our lives is a most difficult thing; yet somehow it seems just right to me.

    I doubt we are disagreeing much. Perhaps I’m simply expanding a bit on the term “relationship” or maybe I’m simply being specific to myself. MCS

    Comment by Mary — June 15, 2013 @ 1:17 pm

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