Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Taking Zen to the Laundry Mat

Taking Zen to the Laundry Mat
by Scott Bradley

I would like to take Zen to the laundry mat, throw it into one of those big industrial-sized machines with lots of (biodegradable) detergent and cleanse it of all its religious jargon and paraphernalia. No more Buddha! No more bodhisattvas, Kannon, devas, demons, kalapas, hells, Universal Mind, holy sutras, sangha, blah, blah, blah...

It's not like Zen doesn't sometimes try to launder itself. "Kill the Buddha" is just such an awareness of the distraction of religious fixation. But it never really succeeds, at least externally. I suspect that this is the case because those within the tradition do not have my hang-ups (and I recognize them as such); they are comfortable with all this mythological blabber (just as I am comfortable with my own).

What makes matters worse, in my opinion, is that those of my own cultural context who become conversant in Zen also become enamored of all this religious and culturally dependent paraphernalia. Irrespective of meaning, there is great profundity in 32 letter Sanskrit words full of unpronounceable (for the uninitiated) multi-consonants and numerous diacritical marks. What to wear? A black robe, of course! Or make that orange, if you're a Hare Krishna. Or red, if you're a sanyasin. Or white, if you're a Sikh-guru-wannabe. And don't forget the other accouterments — the tuft of hair, the turban, the beads, the serious mien, the slow movements...

At least Zen has no special day. Could the economy withstand another holy day? Already the Jews have Saturday, the Christians Sunday, and the Muslims Friday. One more, and we'd never get anything done.

I understand that identifying with the religious-culture of an adopted religion helps one to immerse within it. Only, for some reason, I would have hoped more of Zen — perhaps because I suspect it has indeed found a relatively honest and effective path.

Okay, the final spin cycle's finished; let's see what we have. Gee, all the essentials are still there! So there is possibly awakening without belief and mythology!

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


  1. Well said. The religious component was what led me to stop meditating with a local Korean Zen group. Nice folks, I just couldn't bring myself to chant one more meaningless series of syllables...

  2. "Laundry mat"...that's funny. You could do a lot with that. dojo...the yin/yang spin pointing at your stain.

  3. ni·hil·ism (n-lzm, n-)
    1. Philosophy
    a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
    b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
    2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
    3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
    4. also Nihilism A diffuse, revolutionary movement of mid 19th-century Russia that scorned authority and tradition and believed in reason, materialism, and radical change in society and government through terrorism and assassination.
    5. Psychiatry A delusion, experienced in some mental disorders, that the world or one's mind, body, or self does not exist.

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