Friday, September 14, 2012

Occupy Yourself

Scott Bradley


Zenkei (Zen Comments on the Mumonkan), once again commenting on the requirements for the attainment of satori, writes: "One has to make a leap into another dimension after going through a crisis of desperation." I have previously commented negatively on similar statements, taking exception to the prescription of pain and anguish as the necessary precursor to liberation. Here, I would like to address it from what I hope is a more positive angle.

Though I often might feel a sense of desperation with respect to my 'failure' to attain true freedom, I must confess that I remain far from a "crisis of desperation". Why is this so? I can only assume that the problem is I don't want it bad enough. Though there would seem to be a glaring contradiction here, specifically that the way to the cessation of wanting is to want it bad enough, I think this diagnosis of my own lack of drive would meet with agreement among many of the spokespersons for the transcendent experience. "If you want it bad enough, you'll get it."

If we look at this experience as a kind of conversion, then this belief may very well be correct. I am willing, therefore, to concede the point: I don't want it bad enough. Period; end of story.

This in itself provides a certain freedom; for in acknowledging a lack of the necessary will-power and concomitant motivation, I am released from the pain of striving for what I cannot obtain. All I need do is accept myself as I am. That is, I need only occupy myself as I actually am. And I can do this based on the realization that all is well in any case, that there is in reality no distinction between 'awakened' and 'unawakened', between samsara and nirvana. This is, in effect, a cessation of striving.

Needless to say, 'should' raises its haloed (or is it horned?) countenance at such an admission of impotence. But what force has 'should' in the context of 'can't'? For I quite simply cannot meet the emotional criteria specified as a requirement for satori. I can't manufacture a "crisis of desperation" or of "excruciating inner anguish". 'Should' does not apply.

I have made frequent reference to Zhuangzi's Confucius who declares himself to be "a victim of Heaven", an acknowledgement of his inability to live the Daoist life "outside the lines." I once mentioned this to Dr. Ziporyn who told me that it was precisely this acknowledgement that one scholar took as a pivotal and revolutionary perspective of Daoism. We are all in some sense “victims of Heaven”, the fated expressions of our peculiar and individual humanity. I would list among mine an inability to believe metaphysical pronouncements (an apparently necessary requirement for the commitment necessary to pursue satori), a general lack of will-power, and a certain obstinacy to not emotionally comply with the demands of others. Play me a dirge and tell me to cry, and I will not and cannot.

The Simple Way is a way which accepts these realities just as they are, and simply suggests we occupy all of ourselves. Harmony is had, not through the elimination of the disharmonious, but through its inclusion.

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

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