Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Story, Part 1

The Story, Part 1
by Scott Bradley


This post is largely a response to Shawn's post "Go back before you go forward." I will presume to summarize his thesis here: We believe that our behaviors, our thinking and our doing, are a free expression of our autonomous selves. But they are, in fact, determined by our largely unconscious story about ourselves. We act compulsively. We are not free. Even when we become aware of this fact we are unable to free ourselves because the self cannot free itself from that which makes it a self, namely its imagined history as the concretization of its existence. Were the self able to commit suicide, it would be a decidedly selfish act and thus an unsuccessful one. Shawn concludes by saying that Zen, through self-knowledge, can help us dissolve this history and deliver us to freedom.

I think this fairly succinctly sums up our situation, as viewed from a chosen perspective. There are many ways to come at and interpret our experience and these compliment each other. So, yes, I agree with Shawn.

One thing I would like to address, however, and not specifically with reference to what Shawn has said, but more generally, is what we mean by "Zen". Strictly speaking, Zen is a well-defined tradition of thought and practice. We do it some injustice, therefore, when we speak of it as something other than this tradition. If I do not actually subscribe to the beliefs of Zen and do not practice its methods, I cannot honestly say I am "into Zen" or “do Zen”. In this sense, I am not into Zen.

Nevertheless, I steal this word "Zen" from Zen and see it as representing that to which Zen aspires, yet something greater than Zen itself, and common to many traditions. Thus, frequently when I use the word Zen, it is with reference to a sensibility and aspiration which, though inspired by Zen, has little to do with the nuts-and-bolts Zen going on down there in the dojo.

Zen as a tradition has helped facilitate this theft. Zen often speaks of Zen, not merely as a body of thought and practice, but as the goal itself. One experiences Zen, and this is satori, enlightenment. But, as I have said before, Zen does not have a patent on this experience, all rights reserved. Nor is the Zen-path the only path wherein one may have this experience. People were having this experience long before Chan (Zen) and long before Sakyamuni sat under his tree.

So what remains, should we wish to use it, is the term Zen, even as Zen uses it, as descriptive of something greater than the Zen tradition, and it is this usage which I most frequently employ.

Now, having chased that particular rabbit, does enough space remain to consider "story"? Nope.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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