Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"That's So Zen"

It kind of amazes me how commonplace the phrase "that's so Zen" has become. Even people who believe Buddhism is the devil's work seem to be saying it these days. Of course, when people say such a thing, they're basically speaking about some kind of ease, flow, or blissed out state. And I always feel like those saying it have some vague, hazy memory of pot smoking or some other drug trip in mind.

Anyway, after a day full of little hassles and basically being impatient, my computer shut down last night for a short time, and I threw a cussing fit in my apartment. Nothing serious. Just a string of F-enheimers and a few bitter thoughts about various subjects that had been floating around in my mind.

However, after calming down, and getting the computer back on track, I thought "this is Zen too, people!" As I write that, I snicker at the attachment to "what Zen is" coming forth from such a statement. It really doesn't matter in the end if millions of people think Zen is akin to the feeling they had sitting in some dude's basement back in college. Obviously, there's a place for those of us who practice to speak out about such nonsense. That work is valid. But again, in the end, it's not that big of a deal.

However, one thing that did strike me last night is how easy it is to slide into shame around anger and other intense, "negative" expressions. How the line "you're not much of a Zen student, are you?" crossed my mind during that outburst, hoping I'd hook onto it. Which maybe I did shortly, but it's taste just bores me these days, so whatever snacking I did on it was very short lived.

Even though us Zennies laugh at, or get frustrated with, pop culture takes on what we are about, we have our own versions of "that's so Zen." And to the degree we believe in them, and let them hook us, we're that much further away from liberation's door.


Matt Simonsen said...

To me, one thing this post helps point out is that, in practicing Zen, we are (or at least I am, I think) constantly faced with the basic problem of having a FORM to our practice, in which we must work.

What I mean is, when I sit down in the zazen posture to practice zazen, I almost inevitably (and I bet this happens very often even when I'm not conscious of it, though it seems I am often somewhat conscious of it) have some thought, like, "Now I'm doing zazen. Now I'm doing zen practice." This thought is, I believe, almost always linked to some image, in my mind, of me in the zazen posture, or some other picture (maybe a statue of a sitting buddha that I've seen) of the zazen posture.

The fact is, there is a certain form to the zazen posture: it looks more like some certain thing and less like other things. (For example, it looks closer to sitting upright in a chair as we normally do, than it does to lying down.) If I didn't have any image of what zazen looks like in my head, at all, I wouldn't be able to do my best to aim for the shape of zazen in my own body. Then, I wouldn't be doing zazen, as I understand it.

Since I have this image in my mind, I also, inevitably, have the "problem" of the possibility (very often realized) of grasping on to this image, thinking that that image is what my practice is all about. It's true that I must use at least some kind of image (or memory, which is usually in the form of an image for me, I believe) of the zazen posture in order to direct my body toward something like that shape, but, once using the image for this purpose, the next thing to "do" (and the majority of what I am "aiming to do" in zazen, it seems to me) is to relax (now that I have the basic shape) and loosen my grip on that or any goal, aim, agenda, ideal, or image.

What often seems to happen, instead, is that I attach, for some time, often many times in one zazen session, to some version of this image, or some thought like, "I'm really doing this zen thing good!" or "I'm really screwing up this zen thing," comparing, of course, what I think my current practice manifests, with that same (or another variant) image of "what zazen—and/or zen—'should be.'" This problem of working with a form, which we must then (or, more accurately, I think, simultaneously) let go of, is, it seems to me, at the crux of what our practice is all about. We cannot simply throw out the "problem" of having some form to work with.

Algernon said...

Great post for me to read today, especially. Earlier in the day I unleashed a few "F-enheimers" and displayed a moment of, well, to call it "impatience" would be granting me a lot of dignity.

Emptiness can cuss like a sailor!

Nathan said...


I can imagine this is a really familiar issue for other readers as well. I know that my experimenting with forms seems to have weakened attachment to any give form as being considered in my mind to be "THE" practice.

And yet the forms are so important for training ourselves to handle "the rest of life." It's amazing how often one of the chants or mantras I have memorized just appears when I seem to need it to. Which is a reminder of how form and "not form" come together - are together - as we live our lives.

Algernon, I had another short outburst today directed at a wayward driver who was driving too close to my bike. I think part of has been the drastic shift of weather we've just had. Temps near 90 degrees a few days ago, and now they're talking frost tonight. Something about these kinds of environmental changes seems to bring out the "wild" in me.

Parwathy Narayan said...

I love how the term "zen" is being more accepted in our culture. I have bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder and use meditation to help me with my mental problems. It's so much better than medications, and side effect free!

Anonymous said...

When is the book? Seriously.