part 2

The Path NOW



'…The aimless life is the constant theme of Zen art of every kind, expressing the artist’s own inner state of going nowhere in a timeless moment. All men have these moments occasionally, and it is just then that they catch those vivid glimpses of the world which cast such a glow over the intervening wastes of memory – the smell of burning leaves on a morning of autumn haze, a flight of sunlit pigeons against a thundercloud, the sound of an unseen waterfall at dusk, or the single cry of some unidentified bird in the depths of a forest…'

From ‘The Way of Zen’ by Alan Watts.


A note on TOLLE and SUZUKI in brief

(as I see it)

The implications of Eckhart Tolle's 'The Power of Now' when taken together with Zen according to that famous old sage D.T. Suzuki - reveal a more powerful perspective on the human predicament than would be possible for either alone.

Although we humans are individual and unique, we have much in common - as most birds, for instance, have much in common despite large differences in behaviour and appearance. The differences between you and me, as human beings, is marginally genetic but much more down to experience - which begins from our moment of birth (possibly before).

Observe a native of the UK (me) and compare that with someone from Thailand, Africa or South America - see how beliefs, everyday lives and outlooks differ. Equally, observe someone brought up working-class (me again) and see how that compares with someone from the underclass or middle-class. I am as much tied up with my background of experience as anyone - though I needn't be if I made an effort to extricate myself. And there are several ways of escape, ways I can free myself from the past - or at least from aspects of it I find disagreeable.

For instance, there's methods like: making a clean break, starting a completely new life in another place with new people, etc. and there's such methods as psychoanalysis. Zen, though, is probably the most effective and least disruptive way to relinquish shackles of the past. Even so, there are aspects of Zen that seem beyond my reach (which maybe I'll investigate another time).

This is one of the great qualities of Zen: that it helps us move beyond experience - or you might say: back from it, back into closer proximity to our natural unspoiled state of mind. Eckhart Tolle (in his 'The Power of Now') has a few things to say on this. But his response is only part of the solution. The chief part - I believe - is laid out by Suzuki.

The trouble these days with all the weird alternative religions and cults around the world with their various jargon and rituals and hierarchies and what not, is that for many people in the west genuine life philosophies like Zen have become lumped in with them. Those other outfits, though, are invariably parasitic and alien. They often take any opportunity to rope-in the most vulnerable people, who they deviously groom and exploit. And they frequently present rules, rituals and rigmaroles that are a curiously alluring combination of simplicity and baffling illogic.

Zen exists on an entirely different plane. In Zen there is no individual or group who sets out to persuade or convert. There are no rituals, hierarchies or secrets. There is no god or other mysterious supernatural entity. Do you remember observing the world when you were two, three, or even five, say? You knew no names for plants or birds or buildings or aeroplanes. You had no thought of how they worked or why. To you they just were. They, like you, existed in a world or universe which was not in the least mysterious because the concept of mystery did not arise. It was all just there and you were part of it.

But not only that: You were also there at that moment; You were always PRESENT. ***At some point, as Tolle observes, you began to slide away from this present. In order to avoid undesirable events or, more likely, to blend with the human world around you, tackle abstract issues that increasingly took control of your mind as you transcended childhood, almost all your time was spent away from the present. Instead you concentrated on the past or future or various abstract and intellectual issues.

Another angle on this is that our human brains have evolved from the single right-brain of most animals. We have a bicarmel mind: an intuitive right-brain and an intellectual left-brain. But we can't simply switch-off our (calculating, reflecting, projecting) left-brain and rely on our (in-the-moment) 'animal' right brain as we might imagine. Even if we could, can we be sure it would be of benefit? Questions arise like: Do animals have compassion, or 'cry' when sad - at the death of a mate, for instance? Aren't these responses dependent on left-brain attributes: the conscious ability to look back or ahead? Many animals do show distress at such times, yet how is this possible if they lack the intellectual left-brain that enables reflections or projections?

Ouspensky called living in the present 'self-remembering'. Eckhart Tolle seems to concentrate predominately on the 'self' with regard to this - the 'I' that stands above our thinking mind and observes it in action, both intuition and intellect: its calculating, reflecting, anger or happiness or its just BEING - which is probably the IDEAL untainted reality from which we can relate to and react with the world.

In waveguide technology: for maximum power transfer from a waveguide to an aerial the impedances of both must be the same. Obeying this particular law of physics/nature means the system is optimised. So we adjust the length of the guide to match the aerial. Now there will be no reflections to cause interference, nor any power loss or wasted energy. Maybe you could say the waveguide and the aerial love one another... though I guess that's a bit weird for inanimate things. But it's how you get the best possible reception. And I'd imagine it's the same with your MIND: Its best - its optimum - mode is probably when held in the present so one's attention is not scattered wastefully - though (if appropriate) one is aware of past and future - AND at the same time in tune with surroundings: only naming or analysing when necessary for a particular task. This focus on the present concurs with Eugen Herrigel's experience as i interpret it here.

Hence to remain, I suggest, as far as possible in the (optimum) Zen mode: stay in the present, observe from above your mind, alert to surroundings as they really are (not intellectualised, unbiased by mood or irrational influence), AND in any action or decision: elevate compassion above every other consideration. In short: BE PRESENT, BE AWARE, BE COMPASSIONATE

Are these rules? No - not man-made, at any rate - because like for the waveguide, nature has certain conditions that it is our disadvantage to ignore. The addition of compassion means that Karma too is optimised: we will be left with an untainted conscience. (A tainted conscience might be analogous to stray reflections in a waveguide that interfere with the signal).

BUT THIS is only PART of the story.

Here's an intriguing little Zen parable that illustrates the Zen approach, which I think is worth a moment or two of contemplation:


Is That So?

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.
  A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
       This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
       In great anger the parents went to the master. 'Is that so?' was all he would say.
       After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else the little one needed.
       A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
       The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.
       Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was'. 'Is that so?'

                         From: ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’


"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic, it is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness -- and if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now, as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself, a marvelous victory."   - Howard Zinn (1922 - 2010)

Zinn's quote might look a bit incongruous here, appearing immediately after that eye-opening little parable. But most of us remain quite a distance from where that parable goes, while the concept of hope/desire informs a significant part of our human psyche... a concept - unlike the detachment implied in the parable - that we readily empathise with. The fact remains, though, that ultimately "our only hope is to abandon hope" - a notion that's almost (?) a koan... ah, koans... another huge and intriguing aspect of Zen...

...........see also: 'Thoughts of a Sage'

.....Suzuki & Fromm on 'Zen & Psychoanalysis' .. >>>