An interesting quote from the second Zen class I went to yesterday (the third and last class in the series will be next week):
A frog can just "frog."
A bird can just "bird."
But a human cannot just "human."
The key is that animals have very little that gets in the way of their just being themselves. They can sit, eat, sleep, and most importantly focus on exactly what they want and what they feel at every instant. In this way, they are somehow able to be at peace with themselves and in touch with the world around them and with other beings much more powerfully.
But people are different. It is extremely difficult for us to just sit and think of nothing. Or just eat and enjoy our food. The main "practice" in Zen is nothing but sitting -- detaching from the world and one's thoughts and just being. Just humaning.
Why is this so hard for us? Why do we have so little control of our thoughts? What makes us different from animals? I think it's much more complicated than just the fact that we are self-aware and have "intellect." I think our ability to just human changes as we age and changes based on the situation we're in, and I think it is something that we can even learn to do better through practice.
This concept of just being and why it is difficult for us has kept my attention since the class I attended. I'm curious also about how I and other people are able to see glimmers of bright spots when we are just being or doing one specific thing very effectively -- when we're "in the zone" or able to be creative or concentrated. I'm curious about what allows us to be that way from to time and how we can do that more often.
Also, what role does technology play in all this? In some obvious ways, technology really distracts and makes us the least human I can imagine, especially when it disconnects us from establishing heartfelt and direct communications with other people and brings us further rather than closer to others. However, when used in other ways, I think (social) technology can also allow us to be more human than was ever possible before, and I'm curious how we can make that happen.
This blog post isn't really meant to answer any questions; it is meant to put out there some of the questions that have gotten me thinking and welcome others' feedback and input.
I just went to a fascinating seminar on the intersections between Zen Buddhism and Judaism. It sounded crazy to me too, which is exactly why I went.
It was held at my temple and run by our new cantor, who grew up Jewish but also found Zen and studied it devoutly. I very much respect him for his clarity of thought, precise memory for quotations and stories, and of course his amazing voice.
The seminar went through the history of both Zen Buddhist and Jewish/Kabbalistic traditions and showed how many of the most influential thinkers in each tradition were saying the same thing, but with different words. There were important differences between the two disciplines, but many of the core messages were extremely complementary and shockingly similar.
I learned way too much to write here, but I figured it would be interesting to point out the idea that resounded with me the most and the idea that was the most difficult for me to grasp.
(As an aside, both traditions teach that once you have grasped an idea, you have failed. It is in the act of grasping and striving that one learns.)
Idea I relate to the most: Having a beginner's mind.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." -Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi
This quote sounds very close to home for me because I am always interested in the things that I know nothing about and in how I can always improve in various ways rather than how I'm good at something. Though at times my "beginner's mind" can seem limiting, it is often what drives me to learn and study hard and to always be prepared and expect the unexpected.
Idea that I struggle with the most: Finding myself where I am and feeling the emptiness.
"If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?" -Dogen Zenji
The seminar talked a lot about the idea of non-attachment as well as of dependent co-origination -- that all things in life are somehow connected and affect each other. And it is only when we can quiet our minds and feel the emptiness around us that we can truly feel ourselves. This concept is so difficult for me and is what I'm struggling with right now -- how to quiet my mind and all my busy-ness and just be.
I've learned a lot already and look forward to the next two meetings of this seminar. In the meantime, I hope to just be with my beginner's mind.