Sunday, April 14, 2013

What is Zen, Again?

I've kept a running list of my working definitions of "Zen" since I started practicing it. You can see how my feelings have evolved as I've gone through various phases of enthusiasm and disillusionment with the practice, periodically answering the question:

What Is Zen?
  • To appreciate and promote harmony.
  • Expressing our fundamental nature simply.
  • To seek no particular thing, but be open to all things.
  • Letting compassion guide action.
  • Seeing beyond the narrow prism of one's self.
  • To not try to elevate oneself above others.
  • Having confidence that we are not alone, that others are just like us.
  • Everything changes. Everything that comes into being goes away.
  • The one great truth is that there is no truth.
  • For better or for worse, this is it. This is what's happening.
  • Grasping for what we crave intensifies the craving. Avoiding what we hate intensifies the hatred. Neither grasping nor avoiding, we find ourselves.
  • All the different things we encounter are not fundamentally separate from one another, nor are they exactly the same. If you could see through time the way we see through space, you would see how everything is branching out from a common origin. A good analogy is the leaves on a tree; they are each different leaves, but they make up one tree.
  • Minds are made of the same stuff as reality.
  • It's impossible to truly elevate oneself by putting others down, nor is it possible to elevate others by putting oneself down.
  • There is endless room for improvement, and we have to do something with our time...
  • Evil actions are more like unfortunate actions based on unfortunate misunderstandings of reality.
  • Understanding leads to compassion.
  • If we don't get what we want, we suffer. If we get what we want, we still suffer because nothing lasts forever. The only thing we can always appreciate is the endless change.
  • Recognize and move on.
  • In everyday activity, we act on the little truths; we need to work, eat, and love. In meditation, we act on the big truth; no action is necessary.
  • In everyday activity, we accept our human responsibilities and try to steer a good course. In meditation, we accept that the universe is calling the shots.
  • Psychologically speaking, Buddhism is about reducing secondary mental activities--the thoughts, theories, and obsessions that arise after the immediate experience of perception and emotion.
  • The core belief underlying Buddhist morals is that humans are intrinsically compassionate and loving, but our basic nature is obscured by defensive reactions. The moral goal of Buddhism is therefore to remove the defensiveness and uncover our fundamental nature.
  • If you understand the futility of action and desire in a changing world, then it becomes natural to sit still.
  • Figure out what you know to be right by quietly looking, listening, and feeling inward. Then resolve yourself to do what you know to be right, no matter what everyone else is doing.
  • Zen is just to be straightforward, to be yourself without apology or pretension.
  • The idea of "zen" is extra. It's unnecessary and brings too much old, pretentious baggage. It's better to forget about "being zen."
  • It's entirely possible that we are motivated to "be zen" in order to feel superior to others or to seek attention by posing as a wise or noble figure. Any practice can be co-opted by pretension and competitiveness.
  • Those who continually "seek the truth," whether in zen or a religion, are actively refusing to listen to the answer that presents itself continually through experience: Life has no absolute meaning.
  • There is no truth to be found. There is no solid ground to stand on. A person cannot discover the nature of reality because it has no nature. To accept that and get on with life is zen.
  • From meaninglessness comes freedom. From freedom comes power. From power comes responsibility. From responsibility comes purpose.
  • The ideals, community, and practice of zen exist for a few reasons: first to help people cope with the lack of absolute meaning and purpose in life, the uncomfortable reality of being a unique human, and the sheer terror of temporary existence; second to help people recognize that these things only seem terrible because we are emotionally invested in unfounded expectations that things will last and go the way we want, and that releasing these expectations resolves a large amount of the angst associated with the human condition; and third to help people actualize a life in which they fulfill the potential available to them when they are free from the tyranny of their own fear, greed, hatred, anger, pretensions, and delusions.
  • There is nothing to discover, nothing to fill the emptiness inside of us. To just live an ordinary life in a straightforward fashion, without grasping for ideas of truth or pretending to be religious, is to appreciate this experience as directly as possible. That is zen.

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