Zen Self Inquiry

Why I Made This Website

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My peers in Zen have often asked me why I am bothering to do this. My only reply is that when I was looking for help, I found Dr Richard DeMartino and Dr Masao Abe—as did my peers—so I am returning my teachers’ kindness and graciousness. This site may not appeal to everyone, but to the few with whom it resonates, I will do my best to assist you.

I know there are many places to go to study ‘Zen’ and all of its variations in the world today, so why would I bother doing this? When I was in great distress in my youth, I looked everywhere for an answer but found no solutions in any teacher I encountered. Although I found many teachers, I couldn’t find one who could address my questions with depth and logic. I was told to believe, meditate or ‘let go’, but no one offered a substantial understanding of the existential problem I had with time. I did not want to live for eternity; I could not grasp it, and it horrified me, yet I did not want to die. Telling me to pray or meditate was like I was being told to put a salve on a rash, but no one knew the cause of the rash. As far as being told to have faith, I found belief to be the most arbitrary thing because belief does not create reality otherwise Santa would be real. When I asked why one belief should hold sway over any other, I could not get a substantive answer. I had believed in God most of my life to that point and had nothing to show for it. Teachers from the Eastern traditions told me to meditate, chant or do some other practice, but when I asked how this was different from Western practices I got no defensible answer. I could find many people who would give me their practices but none who could give me insight. To me, it was just another form of religious practice, and I had enough of that.

Then I met Dr DeMartino. Dr DeMartino used to say that Zen, in order to be taken seriously, needed to present its view in the world marketplace of religious philosophy as a well-developed and logical articulation of what it depicts as the dilemma of the human consciousness. Not some ephemeral, nebulous argument but a substantive one that could be defended. Zen had created its own dilemma, with its history of arcane answers and swinging cats. Behind all of this, there was a strain that articulated the human dilemma and its solution. After a brief conversation with Dr DeMartino, it was apparent to me that he not only understood what I was going through but that he knew the nature of the problem. He could at least point me in a direction. Today, when I look at what’s in the religious marketplace, I don’t see anything that would have helped me in my darkest hour. Why would I pick Zen over any other religious practice considering the ‘Zen’ I see presented today? Most of the teachers I see are selling good feelings and ‘do good to get good’ ideas. This is just another form of materialism and ego gratification. There is not enough profound understanding of what underlies Eastern philosophy. There is most often the ‘feel-good’ message given. It is quite dismaying to me to talk to a well-respected teacher and find that their understanding is tenuous at best. To give a brief example of this, a student of mine was attending a lecture by a prominent local Zen teacher. He asked the teacher about the problem of the dualistic aspect of human consciousness, and the teacher replied, “I’ve never heard of dualism in Zen”. This, friends, is a real problem.  Another student was in a sangha and at the end of a lecture the Zen monk led them in a prayer.  She simply asked the monk ‘who do we pray to?”  The monk became angry at the question and gave no answer. So far those who might want to dig deeper I offer my thoughts and experience and hope they help you.

 

Shin ichi Hisamatsu Caligraphy

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