Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Zen and Japanese Culture – Still Being Read 2010.03.10

New York: Princeton University Press Bollingen Series #64, 1973. ISBN 0-691-01770-0.

Well, I have been continuing, albeit somewhat inconsistently, my reading Zen and Japanese CultureIt continues to fascinate, in a delicious pairing with Epictetus, and with C.G. Jung. Epictetus argues all that is important to live a happy (complete?) life is to willfully recognize those things in life over which we have the power of the will; Jung argues that the will is subject to the natural existence of the unconscious. Suzuki argues that the highest expression of Zen is to mindfully remove the mind, and to exist being an expression of capital 'N' nature! Hmmmmm. Seems like there are some philosophical hurdles here — which I am in the process of exploring. To begin that exploration I am writing out an example of each philosopher's philosophy, beginning with Suzuki.
Some may ask: How can the sword which implements the will to kill work out its function by itself without the willer's directive behind it? What originality, what creative work, can an inanimate mechanical tool be made to carry out all by itself? When a tool performs whatever function it is made to perform, can we say it has achieved something original? The point is this: When the sword is in the hands of a technician-swordsman skilled in its use, it is no more than an instrument with no mind of its own. What it does is done mechanically, and there is no myōyū discernible in it. 

Odd thought - this reminds me of the horse whisperer's comment about a 'dead' horse lacking spirit, on the episode 'The Dog Whisperer Meets the Horse Whisperer.' Suzuki continues:
But when the sword is held by the swordsman whose spiritual attainment is such that he holds it as though not holding it, it is identified with the man himself, it acquires a soul, it moves with all the subtleties which have been imbedded in him as a swordsman. The man emptied of all thoughts, all emotions originating in fear, all sense of insecurity, all desire to win, is not conscious of using the sword; both man and sword have turned into instruments in the hands, as it were, of the unconscious, and it is this unconscious that achieves wonders of creativity. It is here that swordplay becomes an art.
As the sword is not separated from the man, it is an extension of his arms and accordingly a part of his body. Furthermore, the body and the mind are not separated, as they are in the case of intellectualization. The mind and the body move in perfect unison,, with no interference from intellect or emotion. Even the distinction of subject and object is annihilated. The opponent's movements are not perceived as such and therefore the subject, so called, acts instinctually in response to what is presented to him. There is no deliberation on his part as to how to react. His unconscious automatically takes care of the whole situation (p146).

The last paragraph corresponds exactly with the Dog Whisperer's actions. He frequently comments that he is acting instinctively to what this particular dog presents to him as its particular course of treatment. Also, Suzuki's comment about the unconscious automatically taking care, reminds me tangentially of the submissive dog — it is instinctively acting as per the pack leader's mien and is happier to do it than to be the leader. And yet, it is not an act of unconsciousness, but one derived from consciously making the choice to not interfere with the natural instincts, to work with it. Again, I feel an intuitive link between TDW's comment that animals are striving to do something/anything in the service of their pack leader/master. This was strongly stated in the episode with the horse whisperer.

And, even more bizarrely, I am reminded of Krishna's admonishment to Arjuna, after Arjuna expressed reluctance to fight his relatives. Krishna pointed out that it would be unwise for him to turn away from his true nature, which is that of a warrior. Krishna's wisdom required that Arjuna fight his relatives, even if morally that was unwise, and to fight with is heart and soul and, if necessary, to kill them, because his fight was a right and just one. Arjuna refuses to fight against the greed destructiveness of his relatives, arguing that ...

The sins of men who violate the family 
undermines the constant laws
of caste and family duty

To which Krishna replied:

Look to your own duty;
do not tremble before it;
nothing is better for a warrior
than a battle of sacred duty

Odd connection of ideas. Stay tuned; I will be citing from Jung and from Epictetus.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Epictetus: Discourses — Continued 2010.03.01

Once again I experienced an amusing fushigi while reading

Born about 55 C.E. in Hierapolis in Phrygia,
modern-day Pamukkale,
in south-western Turkey.

The fushigi begins with my reading:

... Where I can be hindered and compelled the obtaining of those things is not in my power. Nor is it good or bad, but the use is either bad or good, and the use is in my power. But it is difficult to mingle and to bring together these two things, the carefulness of him who is affected by the matter and the firmness of him who has no regard for it. But it is not impossible, and if it were, happiness is impossible. But we can act as we do in the case of a voyage. What do I do to prepare for it? I choose the master of the ship, the sailors, the day, the opportunity. [It was at this point that for no logical reason, into my mind's eye came the scene in the movie '28 Days' where Sandra Bullock's character Gwen is being taught by the professional baseball pitcher on how to throw a baseball. The lesson Viggo Mortensen's character, Eddie, is giving is to control what is in your hand — how the ball is held, the timing of the release, etc., and to let go whether or not it is a strike because 'that is someone else's business.' Even as I was thinking this, I thought, how funny! The lesson's of Epictetus can be found in feel good American movies! Epictetus continues...] Then comes a storm, regardless my careful preparations. What more have I to care for, for my part is done. The business belongs to another — the master. But the ship is sinking — what then have I to do? I do the only things that I can, which is not to be drowned full of fear, nor screaming, nor blaming God, but knowing that what has been produced must also perish: for I am not an immortal being, but a man, a part of the whole, as an hour is a part of the day. I am present like the hour, and past like the hour. What difference, then, does it make to me how I pass away, whether by being suffocated or by a fever, for I shall pass through some such means (Discourses 2.5 slightly edited).
So, then here comes one of those quiet fushigi that are simply too small and peculiar to take seriously, but so strange and peculiar that they seem worthy of taking some notice, if for no other reason than stopping to see them is like stopping to smell the roses, or pausing to enjoy a sun set or a moon rise.

After being bemused by the curious parallel between a Sandra Bullock movie in which she is being taught to throw a ball and the stoic philosophy of Epictetus, I then read the next paragraph:
This is just what you will see those doing who play at ball skillfully. No one cares about the ball being good or bad, but about throwing and catching it. In this therefore is the skill, this the art, the quickness, the judgement, so that if I spread out my lap I may not be able to catch it, and another, if I throw, may catch the ball. But if with perturbation and fear we receive or throw the ball, what kind of play is it then, and wherein shall a man be steady, and how shall a man see the order in the game? (Discourses 2.5. my emphasis.)

Sorry, but I found that very amusing.