The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Personal Reflections ... Zen ...

I haven’t had much blogging inspiration of late. But I just wrote a note to a “Zen buddy” of mine who is spending the summer in France. Given that he is a 72 year old idealist who still carries the torch for Bernie Sanders, I congratulated him for not giving in to “comfortable numbness” (yes, I’m thinking of the Pink Floyd song). Since we are both Zen students and loyal participants at the local zendo, and yet we both retain something of a healthy skepticism regarding all “bodies of received wisdom” including Buddhism and Zen, I made the point to my friend that Zen practice is not necessarily an antidote to the eviscerating comfort of modern suburban life that Roger Waters sang of. Then I followed up with something of a Zen thought, or maybe more appropriately, an anti-Zen thought. I.e., that Zen is often just another form of “existential novocaine”.

And yes, this thought was also inspired by Pink Floyd — recall the line that goes “just a little pin-prick, they’ll no more AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH . . . but you may feel a little sick.”

So I did a Google on the phrase “existential novocaine”, and I only found two other places where the phrase was used. SO, it’s an “almost original”. And no one has yet tied it to Zen or Buddhism. So, I stake my claim !!

Well, I usually like to write long essays, but for tonight, I’ll go the Zen route and keep it short. Zen and Buddhism as existential novocaine — take it or leave it. An Anti-Zen Thought . . . but then again, Zen is sort of like the elementary particle known as the neutrino. One of the interesting characteristics of the ghost-like (almost Zen-like) neutrino is that it probably serves as its own “anti-particle” (as with gluons and Higgs bosons). Perhaps so too with Zen . . . when you criticize Zen, you are actually doing Zen. Perhaps all the more so!!

PS, here’s an interesting post I found regarding “Cultural Novocaine”. I’m not sure exactly what the author (a Mr. Steppling) is trying to sell, but I love his line about “the strip mining of consciousness”. YES!!! That’s another good way to describe Zen. Anti-Zen as Zen!! Love it!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:02 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Your post is directed to your “Zen buddy”; so likely, I should stay out of this. A second reason I should stay out of this is that it’s been about 20 years since I left Buddhism, and I’ve forgotten most of what I once knew.

    I will also point out that the topic of strip mining was only recently brought to my attention in a discussion I had with someone else who felt strongly against strip mining and what it was doing to land around their city. I can see your thinking about “good way to describe Zen” is that it is “the strip mining of consciousness”. (I think I have your idea correctly stated.)

    But I think you might care to give a “double think” to the idea of “strip mining” as related to Zen and/or consciousness. There are some people who are 100% against strip mining, considering it (my words) a rape of the earth from which no good can come, and they hold this idea for good reasons. If I read Mr. Steppling right, I also think he does not favor “strip mining” as a good thing.

    I understand when you say that you are not sure what he’s talking about. As I read his article, and I could very well be wrong here, I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about except that he was somehow criticizing our present culture as a loss when it comes to the arts of any kind.

    Thus, while I understand the idea you are trying to make and I can see the concept you want to get across, due to the bad results strip mining leads to, you might reconsider your comparison. Perhaps the trouble is Mr. Steppling and his incomprehensible article?

    I can also see that it’s almost impossible these days to say anything that will not have somebody up in arms about something. But here, I think that strip mining has earned itself a seriously bad reputation such that comparing it to Zen may not be helping Zen. You may not want to have Zen connected to strip mining. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 20, 2016 @ 10:32 am

  2. Mary, I DEFINITELY want to relate Zen to strip mining. That’s why I say that this is an “anti-Zen” post. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “I have come to bury Zen, not to praise it”. But as I said — in burying Zen (as we now know it), one gives it new life.

    Comment by Jim G — July 20, 2016 @ 8:17 pm

  3. Jim, OK, I totally misread you. Sorry about that. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 21, 2016 @ 1:32 pm

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