I'm a big fan of Zen, though I've never actually practiced with a Zen teacher, and I'm turned off by overly dogmatic or religious versions of Zen Buddhism.
Yesterday I was idly glancing at the Zen section of my bookcase and noticed a book that I'd read nine years ago and blogged about in "Search for happiness (and self) called off."
I'm enjoying a re-reading of Barry Magid's Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide. Magid is a psychoanalyst with an appealing take on Zen. He founded the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York City and still teaches there.
Here's some quotes from the book that resonated with me, because I agree with them.
"Meditation can create an oasis or bubble of clarity or calm or concentration that simply excludes all the messiness of our everyday emotional reality. Under the illusion that we are cultivating a higher spiritual self, we merely end up avoiding what is emotionally painful. I have seen this take place at every level of practice from beginning students to what I had imagined were seasoned teachers."
"Zen students, especially those who have had some realization, are in grave danger of imagining that they now are somehow 'seeing reality directly,' just as it is -- without acknowledging all the ways that unconscious processes and organizing principles continue to operate, both on a personal and cultural level."
"Zazen [meditation] is not a technique. It is not a means to an end. It's not a way to become calmer, more confident, or even 'enlightened.' Indeed, our whole practice can be said to be about putting an end to self-improvement, an end to our usual compulsive pursuit of happiness -- or its Zen equivalent, the pursuit of enlightenment. Not that we can't be happy (or enlightened), it's just that we'll get there by a very different route than we once imagined -- and it may not look anything like what we expected when we started out."
"Which is the 'true' self? That question, the basis for so many Zen koans, immediately leads us astray. Instead of fully experiencing ourselves in the very act of asking the question, we imagine there's another more real, truer, more essential self hiding somewhere out of sight that we have to go search for. Not surprisingly, we can never find it."
"Zen practice can redeem the ordinariness of our lives and return us to a natural richness, simplicity, and creativity that we have long imagined could only be ours by becoming special, by attaining enlightenment or some other exotic state of consciousness that once and for all will turn us into a wholly different kind of being."
"In the traditional Zen literature, we read of the Absolute and the Relative. Here, the Absolute refers to the experience of no separation between ourselves and this moment just as it is, of no separation and therefore no sense of a separate 'self' and instead just the oneness of the whole universe. The Relative refers to our ordinary world of distinctions: good and bad, self and other, special and ordinary."
"Many forms of traditional meditation practice are initially geared to pushing students to have some experience of the Absolute -- which can feel like a very special experience indeed. But Zen has also stressed that that is only the first step, and the student must go on to experience the identity of the Absolute and the Relative, the sameness of the special and the ordinary, as paradoxical as that may sound."
"Having lost that original identity of the ordinary and the special, we typically give up on the ordinary and look to new special experiences to compensate for our loss. Although what we've lost is the most ordinary thing in the world, we go looking for something special to replace it. And thus, by pursuing the special, we are, in effect, forever condemning ourselves to be looking in exactly the wrong place for exactly the wrong thing."
"It's a little harder for most people to realize that not only is the mind that I'm trying to escape the only mind I have, but that the mind that I'm seeking is also the mind that I already have. The perfection that we're so busy pursuing is to be found nowhere but right here in the very moment, regardless of its content. This is the most basic spiritual insight that we can have. This moment is it! What we've desperately been seeking is already here."