Friday, December 2, 2011

oh, you were joking

Sixteen days without a major life event! I've been able to run a couple times this week, and even went to aikido on Wednesday. Let's all hope for a calm stretch.

A while ago I had this exchange with a friend at work:
M: does zen practice make you better at coming up with unanswerable questions?
Chris: heh!
Chris: it helps us find questions to ask, and understand that a lot of the time the learning is in the process of questioning rather than in finding an answer.
Chris: tends to focus on setting directions and intentions, instead of goals.
M: actually (all kidding aside) that's very interesting. sounds like it could be useful.
Which is sort of typical of what happens when people who only know Zen from its cultural chic. The standard Steve Jobs hagiography now mentions his Zen connections, but tends to gloss over the disconnect between his Zen practice and the fact that he was kind of a dick. Or Zen restaurants and furniture. Or soap! Clearly it's the best religion ever, or at least among the most diversified.

But then you run into someone who's actually practiced for a while, and it turns out that in fact we try to speak and act in spontaneous ways that meet the needs of the moment. Like last year, walking with a friend and talking about a rough patch in his life, when he said, "And now you're going to tell me that everything is impermanent." I said, "Well, that's true, everything is impermanent, but it's irrelevant to the conversation right now, and it'd just be a cliché to say it."

That's part of why I try not to be all overtly Buddhisty when I'm talking to people: not because I'm ashamed of it (if you ask about it specifically it's hard to get me to shut up), but because it uses a vocabulary and a frame of reference that's pretty foreign to most people. All I really want is for people to understand how their minds work, which is how everyone's mind works, and how the whole universe works. Once we really see our minds in action, we can understand and end our own angst, and we can do incredible amounts of good for the people around us. I don't particularly want that everyone should be doing Buddhist practice; I do care that everyone learn to see themselves and the rest of the world as the fully human, suffering, not-actually-comprehensible entities that we are, and to have compassion for what they see.

"Huh, that's interesting, I'll think about that" is the first step.

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