by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Zen kusai is “Zen stink”, a common ailment among those who discuss things of a ‘spiritual’ nature. Aitkens calls it “the stink of spiritual materialism”, by which he means, I think, the attachment to ‘spiritual experience’ and the explanations which grow out of them. This is stinkiness at its best, however. At least it is rooted in something genuine. Perhaps the term “Zen sickness” might better be used in such a case.
Another form of Zen stink is what you so often smell right here. It is the bandying about of ‘spiritual’ sounding words, or a certain crafty, ‘paradoxical’ way of putting things, as if they hid some deep meaning — without their being truly rooted in experience. But if there is stink here, I submit that it does not go altogether unnoticed. Moreover, where there is exercise, there also tends to be smell. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean,” goes a biblical proverb, “but much increase is had by the strength of an ox.” Yes, there is a lot of manure here, but the fields are getting plowed, and hopefully, fertilized.
But, needless to say, it is not my own stink that I find most odious, but that which is (I hope) of a completely different order. It is religious stink. I have been doing a lot of reading of ‘spiritual’ stuff lately, and frankly, my nostrils burn from the religious reek.
It’s more an unspoken presumption of a holiness and spirituality than something articulated, which is why, perhaps, I myself find it hard to articulate. It is the cavalier use of a multitude of unexamined presuppositions to create a sense of sense. It is the use of highly emotive words without substance, the creation of an atmosphere of meaning where there is none. It is the preacher in his pulpit, the priest in the confessional, and the roshi conjuring up mythical bodhisattvas as if they were real. It does not matter whether they are real or no; the holy ambiance has been implied; let us now float off together into this particular version of feel-good land. But then, this is, for me, the very essence of religion.
So what? I hope you have asked, So what? I have no cogent reply. Call it a bit of stinky venting. Or, perhaps, an appeal to personal transparency and honesty.
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