Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Narratives and Buddhism, Zen Buddhism in particular

In recent days I've blogged a lot about the so-called "Integral" movement, which I think will be remembered as a spectacularly failed  fin de siècle attempt at making New Age stuff ...umm...I really don't how it will be remembered other than the I will find it hard to believe that anyone who's understands what  a Lebesgue Integral is won't remember it as beneficial in any way.

The lack of understanding of science and mathematics though is only pointing to a bigger issue around, an issue at times which I probably bear some responsibility as well.  I suppose I've meant well.  And I suppose there's no way out of it, if you're going to be asked/describe/put into everyday practice a Zen Buddhist practice.  

You're going to have to talk about it. 

In one of Genjo Marinello Osho's recent podcasts (I think it was "The Great Death") he mentions what is said  often - to the point where it's almost a slogan with some Zen texts: if somebody says he's the Buddha, he's not.  If someone says he's enlightened,  he doesn't know what enlightenment is.

The issue in communicating a narrative of Zen Buddhism has always been that to do so one has to express their understanding such as it is or isn't.  So a lot of physical activities that seem potentially harmful are reported in the records of the early practitioners and masters.

And what have we got today?

This blog? Don't believe this blog.  This blog will not help, just as you'll have to do more than look at a web page in Wikipedia to really understand the motivation and uses for measure theory.

You have various other narratives as well.  Some are, I think, rather helpful - I think Genjo Osho's work has been helpful, and there are others as well, including some folks from the Seung Sahn lineage, and some of the Soto folks.   Hsu Yun's lineage also looks particularly interesting to me, at least from the folks I met in China in this lineage.  (Can't really speak to some of their reputed acolytes' their web presence though.)

But even those websites/areas must be taken with a grain of salt, because ultimately they're not going to enlighten you either.

What I think is more problematic, though is the attempts by people to "add" stuff to Zen based on psychotherapy, Large Group Awareness Training (google it), etc.   Similarly I think attempts to create a narrative of "Western" versus "Asian" or "Immigrant" Buddhism ignore the fact that these categorizations are not fixed in any way.

And it is hard to see what that all has to do with the project of Buddhism.  It is true that often immigrant communities aggregate together.   American ex-pats in foreign countries do the same.  But does that mean that a Western Buddhism is fundamentally different from an Asian Buddhism?

Does it have any relation to the question of how you are to realize your original face or everyday mind  moment to moment in your everyday life? 

Note: when it comes to Buddhism and technology, I don't think there's much of an issue there at all; Buddhist can, do,  and will make use of technology.  But it's really a stretch to think this is "adding" anything to Buddhism (and Zen in particular).

It's easy to make narratives out of anything, to try to make declarative, authoritative assertions about Buddhism, the state of Buddhism in time t, in location x, but like that guy said in Pulp Fiction,  that might be pride talking.  

Yeah, this post is a narrative too, and I hope my purpose was to help all beings rather than say, "You're wrong!" for the sake of feeling better about myself.  That's not to say there's no snake oil salesmen out there.  There are; there's questionable teachers and there's teachers that have been authorized to teach by questionable teachers.  Some learn in spite of their teacher, it is hoped.

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