Ah, I love the title of this blog post. It sounds so assured, so confident, so Zen-master'ish. Yet I'm not sure if what I wrote is accurate.
No big deal. Because if Zen actually isn't about letting go, we can let go of that notion. And if it is about letting go, then I've hit the Zen nail on the head.
As should be obvious, I'm a big admirer of Zen who doesn't want to put in any serious work toward satori, enlightenment, or whatever it is Zen students aspire to. This makes me a Zen dilettante -- proudly so, because I'm most attracted to the Taoist side of Zen where self-development (or self-de-development) isn't taken all that seriously.
Nonetheless, my all-time favorite Zen book is Hubert Benoit's decidedly serious "The Supreme Doctrine." (My copy was stolen, by me, from the San Jose Public Library in 1969; the book now is published under a different name.)
I've recommended "The Supreme Doctrine" to several people who I thought would love it as much as I do. I was wrong. They found it confusing and difficult to understand, which admittedly it is.
Having written quite a few blog posts about Benoit's book which contained lengthy quotations, I'm going to take a different approach this time. (Type "Hubert Benoit" into the Google Search box in the right sidebar if you want to subject yourself to my previous pseudo-Zen ponderings.)
This morning I re-read the On the Idea of 'Discipline' chapter, liking it even more than the other ten times or so I've read it.
Instead of trying to reflect Benoit's precise arguments about why discipline, as usually understood, is counter-productive in Zen practice, I'll simply talk in my own words about what's stuck in my mind from what I read some twelve hours ago.
In short, it's my title: letting go is the essence of Zen. And since Zen is just another word for life, letting go is the essence of living.
Hmmmm. Seems like another word is needed.
Let's say "living wisely." Or "living authentically." Or maybe best of all: "living contentedly."
Whatever, I think Benoit (a practicing psychoanalyst) was right on in accepting the basic Buddhist assumption that life doesn't have to be as crappy and pain-filled as it often seems to be.
Seems to be. Not "is."
Benoit says that everything is just fine; however, we don't recognize this. So we look for practices, disciplines, dogmas, religions, therapies, and such which promise to assuage our discontent.
However, these things don't work. They can't work.
Why? Because they perpetuate our current condition where we're continually viewing life dualistically: right/wrong, good/bad, happy/sad, higher/lower, better/worse, etc. etc.
Benoit says that seeing self-improvement in this fashion is like two men pulling on the ends of the same rope. Except the two men are both us. For example, if I want to lose weight, I see this as a struggle between the "me" who enjoys eating tasty food and the "me" who wants to be healthily slim.
No matter who comes out on top in this struggle, the tension that comes from clinging to the dualistic psychological rope doesn't go away.
Indeed, every effort to make myself into a preferred version of Me -- wiser, enlightened, more spiritual, virtuous, whatever -- leaves my essential inner condition unchanged, while altering some specifics of my life. I might lose weight, but I'm still faced with a never-ending tension between what is and what (to me) should be.
So Benoit advocates a kind of spiritual non-practice: letting go and basically doing nothing.
Obviously you can't do this all of the time, since everyday life requires making choices, acting on preferred options, and otherwise pulling one way or the other on dualistic "ropes." However, we can experience moments of non-clinging, simply being, relaxing our hold on reality.
Eventually, he says, these letting-go moments prepare the way for a full-blown satori, which Benoit calls "a letting go that lasts."
Benoit offers up a nifty metaphor/analogy that meshes with my recent post, "Know when reality should look fuzzy or sharp." It involves some 1950'ish (when he wrote his book) high technology: the projection of a cinematographic film comprising a projector, a screen, and the luminous cone which connects them.
The projector stands for Zen's No-Mind, source of our consciousness. The luminous beam is our subconscious. The screen is our consciousness.
When the screen is a suitable distance from the projector, images look sharp and distinct. But as the screen is brought closer to the projector, blurriness increases. Eventually there is just bright white light, when the screen is almost touching the projector.
Our letting go of usual understandings thus brings us toward a state of "who knows?" ignorance. As we stop trying to control how life should appear, moments of blooming, buzzing confusion signify that consciousness is allowing subconscious processes to more fully embrace No-Mind.
Have I done justice to Hubert Benoit's discussion of "discipline" in The Supreme Doctrine? No, not at all. Have I made any sense in this blog post? Probably not, not even to me.
Which is as it should be.
Consciousness is the Big Mystery. Nobody knows what it is or how it arises. It's the secular equivalent of God: ineffable, ungraspable, everpresent (so long as we're aware).
When we think we understand what life is all about, we don't. So the saying "let go and let God" makes a certain sense -- so long as we realize that "God" is the Ultimate Question Mark.
Meaning, when we let go we'll have no idea what, if anything, is going to catch us. (Maybe it's letting go.)