Archive for the ‘Zazen’ Category
Thesis 8 from Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach”
All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice. (Marx’s emphasis)
Do that whenever you are sitting on a bike or bus, at a restaurant or movie theater—on a zafu or even with your breath.
This was apparently too long for blogger’s comments, so I’m posting it here. It’s another comment from that Progressive Buddhism post on mindfulness-based therapy and Buddhism.
I’m glad you bring up ENDS and RESULTS, because we have to make a distinction. If Buddhist practice aims at the liberation of all beings, then therapy is at best a result experienced along the way as a side-effect, and hardly a necessary one. Slavoj Zizek introduces a wonderful distinction between therapeutic and critical religion in the introduction to his “The Puppet and the Dward,” one which I think he unfairly develops on the side of Christianity. He does well to highlight the passive tendencies of therapeutic Buddhism, but he misses the psychoanalytic import of his own terms and the subsequent abuse he makes on them. To put it bluntly, what we have here is a distinction between the pleasure principle and the death drive, and it is a misnomer to oppose the “life-drives” (Eros) to the death-drive (Thanatos). To this end, Lacan argues that all drives have a little death-drive in them. Buddhism is not an inherently therapeutic religion, nor is Christianity the sole bastion of critical religion. A survey of American forms of Christianity shows that the therapeutic mode dominates, arguably with less pernicious results than that ethico-spiritual disposition that in triumphal bad faith throws its hands up in the air for the sake of “pragmatism” and getting “beyond politics.”
I also want to dispel the mind-closing connotations of “critical” as judgmental. The best way to think of this distinction between therapeutic and critical religion is along the lines that Emerson, in his essay “Intellect,” distinguishes between “repose” (i.e. comfort and resignation) and “truth.”
“God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.”
Another useful touching-point is Patrick Kearney’s essay, “Still Crazy After All These Years: Why Meditation isn’t Psychotherapy,” which is is both perspicacious and near-sighted. As the title suggests, he wishes to dispel the connection between what Kyle Lovett calls “traditional psychotherapy” and Buddhist practice (particularly meditation). The problem is when we conflate the history of psychotherapy, particularly psychoanalysis, with this image of “traditional psychotherapy,” with its parent-blaming, ego-worshiping escapism.
That is why earlier I brought up Lacan’s departure from the therapeutic mind-set of his contemporaries, who unfortunately did better than him to saturate the popular perception of psychoanalysis. Strictly speaking, for Lacan, psychoanalysis is not a program of therapy. Psychoanalysis does not proceed by labeling from some distance these or that problems, which are dealt with in the voyeuristic privacy of one’s own ego. Rather, psychoanalysis is an experiment in our painful habits themselves, though in the relative safety of the clinical situation, which in many ways we can expand to the student-teacher relation.
Is this not what happens when, for us Zen adepts, we are sitting? We do not escape from our busy minds or the world changing around us; our quietude is a noisy one, because karma is ALWAYS coming up for us. What we find and what the masters report to us is not a stillness of mind (as if they were somehow opposed in the sense of some reality behind illusion), but the revelation of that stillness in mind – that de-centered I of the storm. The transformations this brings to the practitioner are too great to be sub-ordinated to the therapeutic impulse.
Where are we aware of the breath; when (and) does that awareness end? It is the essential object of zazen because it is the living object, the object whose extent is the co-dependence of birth and death. Try it in reverse, which sounds a bit more awkward: when are we aware of the breath; where (and) does that awareness end? In this moment; its end is not external, but internal to what it is – impermanence, emptiness, Hegel’s “night-of-the-world,” the Cartesian-Lacanian subject.
If zazen is when you’re on the cushion, and Zen is when you’re not, then the only substantial difference is whether you’re on the cushion or not. If zazen is what we call it when we’re on the cushion, then it doesn’t matter what we call it when we’re off. The key to zazen is if done with Right Intention, the difference between standing and sitting, i.e. between being on the cushion and not, will become clear and empty. To that end, advocating zazen with Right Intention is at minimum and all it means to spread the Dharma.
The key to zazen is if pursued with Right Intention, the difference between standing/walking and sitting, i.e. between being on the cushion and not, will appear clear and empty. Thus Dogen says in the Genjokoan that when Dharma fills this whole body and mind we realize that something’s missing. Not only does this mean realizing our psycho-physical self is empty, but that emptiness is form, and that when we have psycho-physical form it’s only finite, which means temporal and ontologically determined. To that end, we realize that standing is standing and sitting is sitting all because of this, which we already know is nothing special.