Monday, July 16, 2012

The Altar Call

Scott Bradley


Sometimes Zen masters make such a beautifully compelling case for the promised land of satori that one wants to get up and run crying to the altar no matter what the cost. Truly. But then, their appeals are not all that unique, are they? All religions make them, the more experience based, the more so. Are they all valid; follow this path and you will arrive? We know better. However, if the transformative potential is in the individual and not the system, then perhaps it would matter less to which altar one flew. Are there not sages in nearly all religions which offer the possibility? I have written "the" individual, suggesting a universal potential, but although it may be true in some sense that every human being has it, I suspect that they are very, very few indeed who have it in such a way as to ever be able to actualize it. Fewer still are those who do.

Personally, I don't believe in a universal 'birth right' to enlightenment (should there be such a thing) any more than I do in a 'birth right' to be a virtuoso violinist. Enlightenment is as incidental a phenomenon as genetic longevity. (Away with a defined, purposive and moral universe!!) For this reason, I am much more inclined toward an approach which, though acknowledging the potential of an ultimate experience, finds fulfillment in the approximation of that experience within the parameters of one's givens. As I have said before, mine is a philosophy of cope, not of hope.

The appeals of Zen are compelling. For me, at least, they have the ring of truth; these guys know that of which they speak. This is not always the case. One intuits. I often read potentially moving descriptions of sagacity which ring utterly hollow. They are fantasy, because unactualized in the speaker. Like so much of what I write here.

So why don't I fly to the altar of Zen? Well, among a multitude of reasons, including those implied above, I have a bad knee. And frankly, because, as Zenkei says, the way of Zen is “attained only after long, sincere and assiduous striving”; I prefer to spend my remaining days enjoying life, rather than striving for what may in the end be a somewhat doubtful, if not chimerical, conclusion. Can anything be lost, in any event? No redemption is required. Death cures all ills.

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

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