Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nietzsche, god-shaped holes, and preconceptions

I was reading this post by Petteri, and was reminded a bit of my own journey; how I came to Zen.

I usually tell people when asked that I came to Zen through dissatisfaction with traditional religious practices, along with, after reading about it, seeing its connection to Existentialism.  Dissatisfaction was, not to put too fine a point on it,  an extreme understatement.  The contradictions of Christianity and  the way in which it was administered, was simply abhorrent regardless of whatever sect I found (though to be fair to Quakers - not the "Evangelical" kind - I never ran into them).  In particular, I found it absurd to see clerics in the Catholic church claiming to stand in for god, and seeing Protestant ministers not claiming to stand in for god, except that they certainly acted as if they had an in with immanence that I did not.  And regardless of that, neither I, nor the clerics, nor parishioners of the Chrisitan faith really seemed to be undergoing a process of μετάνοια (metanoia).  Religions were practiced in which there was a clear quid pro quo with the immanent,yet there was no μετάνοια - there was no transformation, no repentence, no fundamental changes in the core of where ineffective behavior arose. There still isn't, but that seemed to be a necessary thing.

And without going into details, it was clear that all needed that μετάνοια. My behavior and my expectations of my behavior were widely divergent, to phrase it with clinical detachment. And it showed in my relations to others, or lack thereof.  I also seemed to be constantly asking myself, "Is this all there is?" and it wasn't philosophical navel gazing.    It was more like some form of immaturity, though the question was sincere and sincerely pursued.  And it seemed everyone I knew was at their core, full of discontent  regardless of religious practice (or lack thereof), whether they acknowledged it or not. 

There was a time when I agreed with Sartre that "man is condemned to be free."  I also was wary of the lessons of Nietzsche as interpreted by William Barrett.  Those lessons were that being an atheist could not, in and of itself, be a reaction to theism, especially Christianity.  But  more importantly I was dimly aware of how the quandaries of existentialism were playing out in my life.

Eventually, after reading a few books, and after practicing sitting on my own, I did happen upon a Buddhist temple - the Zen Studies Society to be exact, and the folks there had it more together than anyone I had ever met.  During a Dharma talk (not by Eido Shimano), I saw the lecturer pick up a tea cup to take a sip.  He was living his life at that moment to its fullest.  I could see why there was an intellectual kinship between Existentialists and Zennist.  Moreover, I could see that this sort of experiential practice was useful.  Don't worry about X, Y, and Z; just do what you're doing at the moment.  Related ideas I'd read in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, and while at first they made no sense at all (particularly the stuff about "mind weeds), eventually they came into focus.

And I learned through meditating and being mindful in the most mundane of things that I was more peaceful than less peaceful.  I didn't do it really with that goal in mind; I did seek refuge.  I was a refugee.

Don't get me wrong; this practice has been like learning to walk again after a traumatic injury; as being mindful throughout life just wasn't something that was  transmitted naturally to me by my surroundings.

Was this a god-shaped hole?   I think not.  As some readers might know, I wouldn't even call it "spiritual," as that defiles and trivializes it.  But I do think that I had a need, and that need wasn't ever going to be satisfied by trying to plug up a hole of any kind.  When I found out how one could learn not to want to plug up holes,  I became happier.

1 comment:

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