William Lachance (wlach) wrote,

The art of leisure

prentension warning

Over the past few days, I've been spending hours and hours sitting under trees, in coffee shops, and on benches reading D.T. Suzuki's "Zen Buddhism: Selected Writings". I finished it today and enjoyed doing so. But I have a confession to make: This is the second book on the subject I've read (the first being The Way of Zen by Alan Watts), and I still know very little about Zen Buddhism. I don't understand what they mean by "enlightenment" (satori), I don't understand the koans, I don't understand prajna, I don't understand sunyata (emptiness?!) or tahata (viewing things as they are), or how sunyata taken to its logical extreme, is identical with tahata.



As an exercise for the reader, I present the following inpenetrable passage. Please try and make sense of it:

The state of no-mind-ness refers to the time prior to the seperation of mind and world, when there is yet no mind standing against an external world and receiving its impressions through the various sense-channels. Not only a mind, but a world, has not yet come into existence. This we can say is a state of perfect emptiness, but as long as we stay here there is no development, no experience; it is mere doing-nothing, it is death itself, so to speak. But we are not so constituted. There rises a thought in the midst of Emptiness; this is the awakening of Prajna, the seperation of unconsciousness and consciousness, or, logically stated, the rise of the fundamental antithesis. Mushin stands on the unconcious side of the awakened Prajna, while its conscious side unfolds itself into the perceiving subject and the external world.

(no, I'm not providing context: but trust me, it doesn't make things much easier)


Honestly, reading the last chapter I felt like everyone around me (even the obnoxious Westmountian next to me chatting to her husband over a cellphone on what she was going to buy from the bourgeois grocery store for dinner) knew more about the essence of Zen than I did, for all my efforts at understanding these damnable books. Honestly, the biggest obstacle in my way seems to be my overly analytical mode of thinking. I can not just accept: I must understand. But understanding to me means to dissect and tear things apart into logical concepts. What do I do with a mode of thinking which, at its core, is all about avoiding (overcoming) the will to do such things? What status does something like Prajna have here? It has a name: I know that much. So it is not altogether dissimilar to a Western philosphical term like, say, causality. But I am apparently not supposed to treat it like a Western philosophical term. So what should I make of it? What should I do with it?

Books are remarkable things.. but they do have their limitations and are no substitute for experience. What would I have made of my 2nd year textbook on Vector Calculus when I was 14? To bridge that gap, I just solved a great many progressively-more-difficult math problems, and eventually I could do multivariate analysis in multiple dimensions.

But how do I bridge a gap like this one? Die and be reborn in 11th century China? There must be an easier way.
Tags: philosophy, zen
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