They certainly got my attention there: what IS the modern Zen perspective anyway? The other day I listened to the first episode of Life Zero – a new podcast that discusses Lifestyle Design and aspires to “follow the modern Zen perspective”. The more I listened to it the clearer it became that the word Zen was used rather freely with little if any anchoring in Zen practice and teachings. Still listening to this show triggered some personal response and made me think of how the practice reflects on my lifestyle design.
In this first episode the host John Flowers – who according to him studied Theravada Zen Buddhism in Thailand (???) – invites a couple of friends to talk around what he calls rules of thumb of Zero Life. One of the topics evolves around getting rid of the things one doesn’t need. There is quite a bit of experience sharing, some practical information on ways to get rid of stuff and details as to the number of pairs of shoes each of them currently owns (who did not sin in the shoe department) but very little philosohpy behind the whole less-is-better idea and with no grounding in any Buddhist tradition one can really get an idea that this is what Zen perspective is about – getting rid of the (material) stuff one doesn’t need.
Some of John’s rules contradict the concepts of Life Zero itself. For example according to one of them we should get rid of anything we have acquired with the ex-lover as this is the reminder of the old times and is a potential emotional baggage. The couch you purchased with your now ex-partner has to go, according to John. Only if it brings up bad memoroies, say the other two. Besides, how sustainable is that, getting rid of stuff and possibly buying new for this reason? In other words, it is the pleasant vs the unpleasant memories and associations that decide the fortune of the couch. (I wonder what John would say of such “joint acquisitions” as pets or better yet children).
Someone less environmentally conscious has gotten separated recently?
From the Buddhist perspective, not wanting (pushing away) is just another side of wanting – we want to NOT WANT. I went through the cleaning stage myself and the process still continues. Yet it seems to me there is no point in throwing or giving away stuff from the closet if I am unable to clean up the space in my own head, if day after day I buy into everyhting my mind offers, take it in and make it my “own”. It is not the couch in itself or the extra pair of shoes that make us unhappy but how we relate to them. I like the way Thich Nhat Hahn writes about it: “The Buddha of our time can use a telephone, even a cell phone, but he is free from that cell phone.”
What we have to drop is not the furniture or clothes to begin with but the ideas of self that create the illusion of separation from others, all sentient beings. All Buddhist practices see it as a purpose to decentralise and drop this idea of an independent self.
No Buddist tradition ever encourages us to run away from one’s emotions and feelings no matter how unpleasant they can feel to us. On the contrary, in zazen we choose to show up for life as it is, face whatever comes up, taking the attitude off the cushion into the everyday life and letting in anger or compassion, without discrimintating. It does require a few tons of courage and compassion and this is where zazen is helpful: here we learn to ride on the wave of emotions, not beign afraid to take an occasional plunge and get wet. I think of it as surrending to the wave in order to get to know it more intimately and to learn to use its energy effectively. To begin with I have to face the wave instead of turning my back on it and trying to run away: it will catch up with me anyway but then the surprise factor can increase the impact and hit me much harder, pulling me into the whirlpool of emotions.
Master Dogen lived close to the water and probably had more to say about it than about furniture. For him water never looked the same, as John Daido Loori points out in one of his recent articles, quating Dogen Zenji: “What different types of beings see is different. We should reflect on this. Is it that there are different ways of seeing a single object? Or is it that we have mistaken a variety of images for a single image? We should examine this question in detail, concentrate every effort on understanding it, and then concentrate even more….”