THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY ZEN


I was looking at the comments section of a blog about Zen recently and I saw something that said something like, “Brad Warner tends to give the impression that his personal idiosyncrasies are supported by Zen.” I thought that was a really weird statement. But I think it’s important to talk about because it tends to give the impression of certain things about Zen that are not supported by reality.

It took me a while to really get what was being said. I mean, I understand the intention, of course. The writer wanted to point out that Brad was a misleading, or perhaps just deluded, guy and we should all be careful about believing that what he says is really Zen. I totally agree that everyone should be careful about believing what I say, though I would never deliberately mislead anyone. I think the average person reading such a statement might tend to think, “Oh that darn Brad! Always trying to make people believe what he says is supported by Zen when it’s really just his own oddball behavior!”

What’s weird about the statement isn’t its implications about me, but its implications that there are statements, attitudes, modes of behavior and so on — by me or by anyone else — that are supported by Zen and those that are not. But what does “supported by Zen” mean?

The implication is that there is something out there that we can call “Zen” that exists apart from the individual people who have been sanctioned by various lineages to teach Zen. There isn’t. Which is not to say that there are not a lot of people who would like there to be.

In the West lately there has been an unstated movement to try and define and solidify what this nebulous thing that can be called “Zen” and that exists apart from those of us who teach and practice it is. What that something is tends to be a mishmosh of ideas gleaned from DT Suzuki, Alan Watts and a load of scholars who’ve written books about Zen, as well as what publications like Tricycle and Shambala Sun say Zen is, and the stuff we’ve seen on the old Kung Fu TV series and in Star Wars and what Richard Gere says Zen is and so on and on. A loosely defined but generally accepted picture is emerging in the West these days of what is and is not “Zen.” But I wonder if this picture is really true. Even so, we tend to compare what we hear from actual teachers of Zen to our image of what Zen ought to be. When there is a discrpency, we tend to want to go with our own ideas about what Zen should be.

We have a long tradition of trying to codify our religions and philosophies. This is what the fathers of what became the Catholic church tried to do when they chose which gospels were orthodox and which were not. The Catholic church has a governing body whose job it is to examine and authorize particular statements to be officially made on behalf of the church. Governments and corporations work the same way. I can’t just say any old thing I want about the rights to the movies my company produces without passing it by the management.

Truth be told, though, even in these instances there really is not any nebulous something we can really call “Catholicism” or “the United States Government” or “the Oscar Meyer Corporation” that exists apart from the men and women who make up these organizations. We just pretend there is. The difference in Zen is that we try not to pretend about anything, and when we find ourselves doing so, we stop. So nobody ought to pretend there is any Zen or Buddhism that exists apart from Zen practitioners and Buddhists themselves.

And yet Buddhist philosphy (or Zen, whatever) is only one. A long-time practitioner can recognize Buddhism and can recognize what is not Buddhism. But that recognition is a rather subtle thing. It’s not definable in words and no set of rules could ever contain it. Buddhism is balance. What is out of balance is not Buddhism. You can know what is Buddhism the same way you can balance a pencil on your finger and can know that you’ve lost that balance when the pencil falls to the floor.

If I’ve ever given the impression that the things I say and do are somehow supported by some nebulous thing out there in the ozone called “Zen,” I apologize. I’ve never deliberately set out to do so. Ain’t no such thang anyhow.

30 Responses

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  1. Seamus "Moose" Anthony
    Seamus "Moose" Anthony October 17, 2006 at 6:40 pm | |


    ” REL=”nofollow”>Zen is as zen does dude.
    It is also as it doesn’t.

    Or how about the one about the only zen you’ll find at the top of a mountain is the zen you brought with you.

    “Supported by zen” indeed *rolls eyes*

    I am enjoying this blog kind sir, keep those good times a rollin’

  2. Seamus "Moose" Anthony
    Seamus "Moose" Anthony October 17, 2006 at 6:43 pm | |

    hmmmm. zen of bad link there sorry. try again

  3. Jordan & The Tortoise
    Jordan & The Tortoise October 17, 2006 at 6:59 pm | |

    Funny, I always thought that Zen was just a shortened version of Zazen, or Just sitting.
    Dude, you are so sit!

  4. Snarkey
    Snarkey October 17, 2006 at 7:24 pm | |

    This thread reminds me of the title of a book I like titled “Buddhism is not what you think.”

    I always thought that was a clever title, but then at the same time it reminded me that thinking that something is clever and rolling it over in my mind is just more of the same old mental jibber jabber that goes on day in and day out.

    It’s kind of a nice way of saying shut up.

  5. Bob Erb
    Bob Erb October 17, 2006 at 8:10 pm | |

    Careful.

    A long-time practitioner can recognize Buddhism and can recognize what is not Buddhism.

    What is not Buddhism? Where is Buddhism?

    Somebody’s bound to get hit with a stick ten thousand times. Who’s holding the stick?

  6. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf October 17, 2006 at 8:40 pm | |

    Zen is the itch on my scrotum right now.

  7. MikeDoe
    MikeDoe October 18, 2006 at 3:30 am | |

    That which is not Zen is also Zen.

  8. Prof Wes
    Prof Wes October 18, 2006 at 9:20 am | |

    Well, if nothing else, whomever wrote that didn’t read your book.

    One of the biggest things I got from your book is “don’t take MY word for it”.

    Indeed!

  9. me
    me October 18, 2006 at 1:00 pm | |

    Ah, but the question really becomes sticky when trying to determine ‘is this balanced?’ Some actions feel appropriate while others feel like mistakes, some seem like good ideas at the time, others don’t.

    Is everything that seems like a mistake (eg “I wish I hadn’t had two beers – I should have had only one”) NOT zen?

    Also, some actions seem perfectly balanced to one person but totally whacko to someone else.

    Words simply fail to help in this matter, I think.

  10. Seamus "Moose" Anthony
    Seamus "Moose" Anthony October 18, 2006 at 2:23 pm | |

    I really think the whole point is that it is our judging things as good or bad that leads to our own suffering. Obviously to be able to stop thinking things like “oh this pounding migraine headache really sucks” is very difficult, but the more we can impliment this skill in life the more we walk *cough* “supported by Zen”.

    This is what has caused the commenter Brad mentions in this article to be suspicious of Brad’s “idiosyncrasies”; he or she would have been “more zen” if they’d simply accepted Brad as is.

  11. Jinzang
    Jinzang October 18, 2006 at 5:34 pm | |

    I think there’s a contradiction in this post, but I’m too tired to figure it out. Something to do with merological reduction, I think.

    But if you had said all Zen teachers are liars, I would have been on it like a chicken on a bug.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 19, 2006 at 1:18 pm | |

    THE FOLLOWING WEBSITE IS NOT SUPPORTED BY ZEN:

    http://www.hardcorezen.blogpsot.com/

    Dude, looks like you’ve got some hardcore
    Christian typo-cybersquatters competing for
    followers. At first I thought you had really lost
    it and joined some Christian-Hare-Krishnas;
    then I thought “Oh, this must be his latest
    joke”; then I double-checked my spelling on
    the URL. Very sneaky bible-thumpers!

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 1:28 pm | |

    I.O.W.: “I have been authorized to teach Zen, but since Zen does not exist apart of me, I teach about me”. And everybody is happy.

  14. Jules
    Jules October 20, 2006 at 1:33 pm | |

    Dude, looks like you’ve got some hardcore
    Christian typo-cybersquatters competing for
    followers.

    They’re not targetting Brad’s blog specifically, any domain that ends with “blogpsot.com” it will go there. They’re typosquatting all of blogspot.com.

  15. kitano0
    kitano0 October 20, 2006 at 2:07 pm | |

    as soon as you say “it is thus”, “it” has changed. form is emptiness, emptiness form. zen is everywhere. a haiku is zen. so is miles davis on “so what”,(a zen title if i ever did hear one.)
    zen is apart from those who practice it, so is catholicism. is there not water when i am dry? is there not beer when i am sober? thank kannon, yes!!!
    samsara is nirvana and nirvana is samsara.
    let’s sit on our cushions regularly
    and enjoy our zen lives!
    but don’t take anybody’s word for it.
    “If you have to ask what jazz is,then you’ll never know”…Satchmo

  16. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey October 20, 2006 at 3:39 pm | |

    Once you try and mold your lifestyle according to a code or law, you lay all your responsibilities to that particular code.
    This gives rise to shifting blame to an authority and therefore lacking any personal responsibility.

    I think this is a very important point.
    Any reliance of authority is an obstacle of the truth. The truth which can only be experienced from yourself from daily practice. The experience of truth cannot be transmitted.

  17. Stille
    Stille October 21, 2006 at 12:25 am | |

    Thank you kitano0 and drunken monkey!
    Your replies have helped me understand a very important point, that I once already saw quite clear. (But things tend to blur sometimes, don´t they?! ;-) )
    Refering to Jazz is a good example. If you hear Miles Davis play, you may say that is zen. But what is zen? Is it anything apart from human beeings? Maybe. But how do you know that? Where is it? So maybe what makes us classify it as pretty “zen” is a quality of the action. A quality which is there because we evaluate it as zen (as fitting to the concept we have of zen). But then it is just a creation of our thoughts…
    If you understand zen as a pratice to practice just being here and now each moment, while stopping to look for a purpose or effect, Miles Davis music could be called zen, because it seems to be just that. But what does it mean? Did Miles practice the Lotus? Or did his music? What is the purpose of calling his music pretty zen?
    You look for it. But there is no zen.

  18. kitano0
    kitano0 October 21, 2006 at 1:24 pm | |

    the qualities of something when referred to as zen or zen-like, i think, usually refers to something
    that is simple and uncluttered. a minimal approach to something. at least, i think that is how many view it. in the case of miles davis’ “kind of blue” album thats how it has always struck me (along with being very beautiful.)
    much japanese art and architecture is heavily influenced by zen, of course and also could be called “zen”, i think.
    however, i am very tired of all these consumer items (like zen wrapped in karma yogurt…,tea, instant miso soup, etc.) being referred to as zen.
    one thing i do know: the more talk,
    the less zen.
    so me hush now.

  19. Esmerelda
    Esmerelda October 22, 2006 at 9:38 am | |

    Miles played totally focused, totally in the moment, in the music, nothing else. So yes that is zen like.

  20. Kamikaze Kurt
    Kamikaze Kurt October 22, 2006 at 8:04 pm | |

    Whoever said that statement obviously doesn’t know anything about your book! But then again, I guess I should take heart because that person is you as well as me!

  21. Anatman
    Anatman October 23, 2006 at 1:10 pm | |

    Do you really think the comment intended to imply that there is a thing called “Zen” floating around out there that has the ability to support some idiosyncracies and not others?

    Please tell me you are not serious.

    Isn’t this a simple matter of semantics?

    Could the quote be correctly understood as follows?

    “Brad gives the impression that his idiosynchratic personal theories are in some way supported by [traditional] Zen [teaching].

  22. earDRUM
    earDRUM October 23, 2006 at 1:52 pm | |

    Thanks anatman.

    By the way, Miles Davis has nothing to do with zen. One might find that listening to Kind Of Blue puts one in a relaxed frame of mind. But that is about as far as the similarities go. Does it matter that Miles was cooked on coke and heroin half of the time when he recorded his music? Is that zen? I think not.
    I hate seeing pop culture references to zen. They only give the wrong impressions to the general public. My son thought that zen was all about sitting cross-legged and humming while levitating.

    This message was supported by the entire universe.

  23. door knob
    door knob October 23, 2006 at 9:33 pm | |

    Eardrum wrote: “I hate seeing pop culture references to zen.”

    Umm, doesn’t Brad do this? Albeit he probably doesn’t do it in the way that you find objectionable.

    Btw, I’m not sure if Miles Davis is Zen, but I’m sure Nirvana is Nirvana. (Sorry for the obvious quip.) :)

  24. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey October 24, 2006 at 6:45 am | |

    If you go to esangha you will find many so called zennists refferring to pop culture references. It is the norm.

  25. Justin
    Justin October 24, 2006 at 12:44 pm | |

    It was me who said “Brad Warner tends to give the impression that his personal idiosyncrasies are supported by Zen.” on Flapping Mouths. This doesn’t mean at all that I am implying that “that there is something out there that we can call “Zen” that exists apart from the individual people who have been sanctioned by various lineages to teach Zen” or even something that exists independently of the lives of people who have never even heard of Zen or even that I believe that there is ultimately such a thing as ‘supported-by-zen’ and ‘not-supported-by-zen’. It only implies that there is such a thing as conventionally supported-by- or not-supported-by- traditional Zen teaching. It was purely a comment about Brad and what he appeared (to me) to sometimes imply and believe.

    Anatman understood me correctly. Brad did not – perhaps because he was was upset by my comment.

    No harm or ill-will was intended Brad.

  26. ConElPico
    ConElPico October 24, 2006 at 1:28 pm | |

    Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, but through it, Brad wrote a helpful post.

  27. Justin
    Justin October 25, 2006 at 1:59 am | |

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 10, 2006 at 11:46 am | |

    Miles may not be zen, but he is definitely nirvana. and/or samasara. wait, maybe he is zen. but I’m talking about his music, not him… yeah, ummm…. find zen, then find miles, put them next to eachother, and it will be easy to tell if they’re the same thing, right?

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous November 10, 2006 at 11:46 am | |

    Miles may not be zen, but he is definitely nirvana. and/or samasara. wait, maybe he is zen. but I’m talking about his music, not him… yeah, ummm…. find zen, then find miles, put them next to eachother, and it will be easy to tell if they’re the same thing, right?

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2007 at 2:32 am | |

    So is shit.. Are you aplaying that Miles music is crap?

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