Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Zen For Surfers and Water-People. How Do We Utilize Zen Ideas Honestly in Life and the Ocean: PART 1

Part 1

By Dr. Len Barrow (Asian/Polynesian Religion Specialist)

As a Doctor in Anthropology I have academically studied Zen Buddhism extensively. Zen Buddhism is hard to explain namely because it is very stereo typed and clichéd in western culture. Zen monks staring at walls or “navel staring” are common misconceptions of what Zen folks do in general . As surfers and water people I think we have a slight advantage in understanding Zen ideas due to the fact that we are constantly running around in the water and engaging other humans in natures ocean arena as opposed to being completely submerged in urban oriented centers (where “the bottom line” is gospel) and all of the aggression that goes with it. As surfers and water-people we chose to escape this in some way. Zen can be vastly helpful in making sense of this fast paced materialistic western world that we were born into.

The worst thing you could do in Zen is to try to describe it as I am doing now. If this is true , the question arises, where do we begin in an honest manner? Well I believe an honest place to begin in our understanding of Zen is through Zens view of the self. Zen folks assert that the self cannot be found in a natural system. More specifically Zen people refute the existence of a soul or “self -substance” (the idea is called “Anatta” or “No Self” to Zen folk). In Zen the idea of a self as a nominal referent is the basis of much suffering and ignorance. To be free of misconceptions of the self is a component in ultimate freedom termed Nirvana.

Well lets for the time being accept “No Self or anatta” is a logical fact, whether it is true or not. What if there were No Self as the Zen Buddhists posit in their analysis. What are the logical consequences if there existed “No Self?”

1. There would be no other (!) ; as the idea of “others” logically requires the existence of other selves. As there are no others we would exist in a type of harmony alluded by Zen. This harmony is called “Playful Smhadi”. To Zen folk this is a type of “freedom from ignorance inspiring freedom and playfulness in life”. I like this idea as a lifelong surfer. Would that not be nice?

2. If there were no self we would live with a great sense of inter-connection with the sea, nature and other humans. This great interconnection is called Inter-being (By the great Vietnamese Zen Monk Thin Nhat Han who is still alive today) or emptiness by others. Western scientists have discovered it also, amusingly 3,000 years after the Buddhists. They are called ecosystems! They are called cultural systems to Anthropologists and social scientists like me!

This great sense of interconnection with all beings and humans would generate a great compassion and love for all things if you really “got it”. You would think twice about snaking a wave from someone or driving overly aggressively or having harsh words with someone in the water. You would think twice about being a DICK. You would think twice about ignoring the homeless person as you are he and he is you. I am truly not a saint nor claim to be one, in fact my behavior can be quite unruly at times. Yet I actually take interbeing to heart as the Zen concept of interbeing shapes my behavior. I am not bragging but I have Senatorial Civil awards for helping the homeless (I am a homeless advocate) and coach high school surf teams without pay (As I love the Keiki as they are me and I am them in Inter-being). I drive around in a dilapidated VW van. Friends and collogues are perplexed by my lifestyle but I suppose it is somewhat logical within the Zen framework . Zen is completely useless if it is not integrated into ones daily life consistently. In many ways Zen is fashionable today but is being utilized in a completely degraded manner as a buzz word, or worse as a personal “front or façade”. This is a perversion of the Zen tradition that I truly wish to avoid.

3. This great compassion that is developed through knowledge of inter-being is called Bhodhichitta to Buddhist folks. If one realizes that we are heavily connected and interpenetrate each other and other things, we will see other people as ourselves, despite their outward differences. If we recognize this interpenetration we begin to realize that the trees of the worlds our lungs, and the oceans, our blood. In fact all of nature would be our body. We would only defend it, not rape it as modern western society is guilty off in some manners. This develops a wonderful sense of intimacy with all. In fact the Chinese character for Zen is “intimacy!” Stay tuned for Part 2 in a few days. I have split this article in two peices as some people may find the ideas a bit confusing and suprising. Stay Tuned All!!

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