I've come across Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen site several times. I know this, despite my sometimes bad memory, because I always look at the t-shirts for sale.
So I remember a repeated feeling of "Seems like I should be the sort of guy to wear a Hardcore Zen t-shirt, but they don't appeal to me." Too Buddhist'y, even with the Buddhist dogmatism and religiosity supposedly removed.
I have the same reaction to Warner's recent post, When You Reach Pure Awareness You Will Have No Problems.
He makes fun of Deepak Chopra, which I like. Chopra tweeted "When you reach pure awareness you will have no problems, therefore there will be no need for solutions." Warner, appropriately, deconstructed Chopra's self-serving B.S.
Let's analyze that for a minute.
When (in the future, not now) you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) reach (whatever you imagine to be) pure awareness you (who exist now and will continue to exist in the future) will have (in the future) no problems (for your self), therefore there will be (in the future, not now) no need for (you to have) solutions (and won't that be wonderful, over there, past that hill, just out of sight, let me sell you a way to get there).
If it were only Deepak Chopra who believed this, it wouldn't really matter much. But this is how pretty much everyone approaches meditation practice and it's why meditation practice seems to fail those people. It is certainly how I myself thought of practice for a very long time. I wanted something for myself. I might have even thought of what I wanted to get in terms of "pure awareness." I read enough shitty books that used shitty phrases like that.
There is no pure awareness for you.
But if this is true, I don't get how Warner -- and other "hardcore Zen" types who take an iconoclastic view of Buddhism -- can still believe in pursuing meditative practices which they say aren't needed and get the practitioner nothing, yet are still recommended.
Even though I've liked the Zen approach to life for a long time (started reading Zen books over forty years ago), more and more this strikes me as a less obvious form of a religious come-on.
"Something is wrong with you. You can't fix it yourself. You need help. I can give it to you. But you'll need to put yourself under my guidance and do what I say."
How is a Zen master (which Brad Warner is) all that different from a Christian minister? Both offer up solutions to life's problems, even though each admits there's really no problem to be solved. After all, there's no such thing as enlightenment or pure awareness, and Jesus died for our sins.
Just by embracing... something or other... done! Enlightenment. Salvation.
If it's that simple, if Zen is just everyday life, nothing extra added, then why is it necessary to engage in so much Zen practice in order to realize there's nothing to be done? Warner ends his post with:
The attitude expressed in Mr. Chopra's tweet sits right at the very epicenter of where things have gone wrong for mankind. It is the source of all of our troubles. The solution to what's wrong in the world is not some distant dream of pure awareness. It's the understanding that what exists right now is pure awareness, is God, whether you know it or not. We, who seek to know it and possess it, are the very thing that makes it so hard to understand that.
A couple of blogs ago Broken Yogi made a comment that, "Brad is mixing categories. I can't pole vault 18 feet like a top Olympic athlete, but I doubt that athlete would call me physically ill because I can't do that... Likewise, I'm not enlightened, but I'm not spiritually lame either."
In response I said something like, "Enlightenment (I hate that word) isn't like pole vaulting 18 feet. It's more like walking to the bathroom, if we were to continue that analogy. Most people, instead of walking to the bathroom, which (let's say) just happens to be 18 feet away instead try to pole vault to the bathroom. And they can't do it because the ceiling is too low. Yet they try anyway and keep injuring themselves. The pole keeps breaking, they keep hitting their heads, they keep beating themselves up over not being able to do it, and they still have to pee. The only thing an enlightened person (I hate that term) does differently is that she walks straight to the bathroom, does her business and then goes back to bed."
Enlightenment or pure awareness or God or whatever isn't some complicated thing we have to chase after far, far away. It's the chasing itself that gets in our way. We wear ourselves out running in circles to try to arrive at the place we already are.
So why Zen? Why all the books about Zen being sold by Warner and so many others? Why all the retreats, workshops, talks, group meditation sessions, etc. etc.?
Wouldn't truly hardcore Zen simply say this is all bullshit?
And give it up. Go back to just being at the place we already are.
Walking straight to the bathroom, doing our business, and then going back to bed. Unless it's enjoyable doing more than that, which I can understand, being a blogger who likes circling around the place that I am, looking at it from different angles.
I just don't think having fun going around in circles should be made into a spiritual practice. That's my problem with Zen. Its become an organized system, with a priestly hierarchy, for not getting anywhere.
I will just say something condescendingly "Zennish": All there is is pure awareness (another term for "Reality") and having problems is not a problem at all.
You don't like it? Tough shit.
Posted by: Willie R | May 15, 2012 at 12:00 PM
"Wouldn't truly hardcore Zen simply say this is all bullshit?"
The concept of "truly hardcore Zen" is bullshit.
Posted by: cc | May 15, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Isnt that the whole Zen thing? Bash your head around, do all the retreats / workshops / meditations, realise it is all bullshit and give it up. And thus become a Zen master... by not bothering with Zen.
Posted by: geo | May 16, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Read the book. He doesn't really like zazen all the time, but likens it to doing it because it's good for you.
Posted by: brian | May 30, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Well, for one thing, I’ve never seen Warner (or any other serious zen dude) say that meditation practice is not needed. Nor that a teacher is not necessary. If you read what they say that way, I would guess they did not mean it that way. Perhaps you ought to write them for clarification?
As for your question about "If it's that simple, if Zen is just everyday life, nothing extra added, then why is it necessary to engage in so much Zen practice", it so happens this was precisely the question - more or less - that puzzled the founder of the Soto school of Zen, Dogen, and made him go all the way to China to find an answer. And considering how he wrote massive amounts of texts about the virtues of Zazen practice, I suppose his answer is not "just fuck it". ;)
Posted by: Zennie | July 28, 2012 at 03:56 AM