Friday, March 25, 2005

Religious notes

The defining practice of Zen Buddhism is that we are supposed to sit zazen, which can be roughly translated, if you go by the etymology anyway, as sitting in a trance. But that is not what it is at all. If I were more dedicated in my practice I would get up at 5 and sit facing a wall in the darkness, trying to keep my eyes open, which is hard at that time of day especially, unless the mind is agitated, as mine usually is, and then the eyes stay wide open but don't see the what is in front of them, but rather see whatever is seen in the thousand yard stare, which is usually a busy, noisy, and tumultuous, maybe completely crazy scene. TV pundits, gibbering.

I don't know about other people's minds, but my mind is like a roomful of parrots, and the room is somewhere else, not here. Some forms of Buddhism encourage you to lovingly train the parrots to shut the fuck up, some forms of Buddhism encourage you to ignore the fucking parrots, and some forms of Buddhism I know nothing about enable you to become enlightened, release the parrots and ascend with them to the pure light of reality, squawking about it, presumably. Or so it is said.
What I do is sit noticing my back increasingly hurting and my knees and hips hurting more than that and notice that the discomfort enables me to make the obvious distinction between primary (goddamn creaky joints hurting) and secondary (parrots) and occasionally a kind of metaconsciousness or I don't even know the word for it that arranges them in a lightningflash whole, which is then...alas... gone. Damn.

Zen Buddhism is a religion of blockheads, people who can't even get to first base, reality-wise, unless you bring them up short, often with physical pain. Basic meditation in Soto Zen is this. Count your breaths till the pain kicks in. You will probably lose track of the count before you get to ten. Half the old zen stories have students being subjected to harsh treatment that today would get the teacher arrested and the zen center shut down. People would go to greater lengths then to attain wisdom, according to the old stories. We live in an age of mappo, degeneracy, it is said. Buddhists of all kinds agree on this.

So I sit facing a wall . I have done this for 30+ years. Ideally, every day, though as we all know, the ideal and the real differ wildly. People who do this claim it is beneficial. I, like most who do it, or try to do it, would have a hard time explaining exactly _what_ the alleged benefit actually is. But the fact is that I have persisted, for whatever reason, all these years.
I believe the test came when my wife was ill with leukemia. All I can say is that I feel like I at least came close to passing the test, closer than I would have otherwise, in being there in a way that was clear and useful, for the woman I loved who was dying, and that the 30 odd years had something to do with it.

The reason Zen Buddhists don't proselytize is that we know that not everyone is a blockhead. The reason other Buddhists don't proselytize is that they know that we live in an age of mappo, as you can see all around you (or if you can't repeat the words Schiavo, Delay, Iraq, WMD, Abu Ghraib or what-you-will until the circuit breaker trips) and there is no point in trying to outshout professionals.

No comments: