Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zen and Japanese Culture - Being Read 2009.10.08

Zen and Japanese Culture is turning out to be a fabulous read! And with near perfect synchronicity-petit timing! While writing a response to Tolstoy's essay berating Shakespeare as a hack writer — to understate Tolstoy as transcribed by Orwell — I came across in Zen language an amazing and colourful affirmation of my argument. And one that also affirmed George Orwell's chastisement of Tolstoy — even as Orwell with at best ambivalently praised Shakesepare. I came across Tolstoy's polemic via Orwell's response to it in Vol 2 of his collected short works. (I will be blogging this bit of doggeral when it's done.)

But even without it being a great supporting argument to my own perverse sense of things, it is a nice bit of writing to promote thoughtless thought.
There is a famous saying by one of the earlier masters of the T'ang dynasty, which declares that the Tao is no more than one's everyday life experience. When the master was asked what he meant by this, he replied, "When you are hungry you eat, when are are thirsty you drink, when you meet a friend you greet him'. This, some may think, is no more than animal instinct or social usage, and there is nothing that may be called moral, much less spiritual, in it. If we call it the Tao, some may think, what a cheap thing the Tao is after all!
Those who have not penetrated into the depths of our consciousness, including both the conscious and unconscious, are liable to hold such a mistaken notion as the one just cited. But we must remember that, if the Tao is something highly abstract transcending daily experiences, it will have nothing to do with the actualities of life. Life as we live it is not concerned with generalization. If ti were, the intellect would be everything, and the philosopher would be the wisest man. But, as Kierkegaard points out, the philosopher builds a fine palace, but he is doomed not to live in it — he has a shed for himself next door to what he constructed for others, including himself, to look at.
The Tao is really very much more than mere animal instinct and social usage, though those elements are also included in it. It is something deeply imbedded in every one of us, indeed in all beings sentient and non-sentient, and it requires something altogether different from so-called scientific analysis. It defies our intellectual pursuit because of being too concrete, too familiar, hence beyond definability. It is there confronting us, no doubt, but not obtrusively and threateningly, like Mount Everest to the mountain-climbers (11-2).

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