Burn yourself out

I was watching this crucial documentary the other night, called Le Chant Du Dragon about one of Taisen Deshimaru’s French dharma heirs, Stefane Kosen. It’s really good (and free for download); you should watch it. It made me recall and laugh at how I was once so eager to have crazy esoteric experiences. As one martial arts teacher said, “you are so eager to jump into so much esoteric bullshit!” What can I say? I’ve always been something of a chump.

It’s true, that a lot of people want mysterious or magical or mind-blowing spiritual experiences. Whether they want them in some sort of crazed bliss-ninny, yoga context or some deviant, sinister magickal context, the desire for the mind-blowing mystery is all the same (albeit with different “flavors” of energy). But isn’t it true that, once you hit the big kahuna and break down all the walls of illusion or whatever, nothing is mysterious for you? Isn’t that what happens when we use desire to get to the end of desire? There’s nothing left that is curious or weird or unexplainable. It’s all perfectly normal stuff.

So I think that’s why historically in Soto Zen it’s always said not to search after anything, how we just want to come to the normal human condition, how zazen itself is enlightenment, etc. It makes sense in the ultimate context. We only pursue the things that still retain an element of mystery to us. Once we’ve fully understood something we move on to other things. That’s (again) why the most interesting romantic mates for humans are always the ones we don’t know anything about. Often the more you know about something or someone, the less you care.

That strikes me as something of a difference between Soto Zen and say, Nyingma or whatever branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Soto Zen seems like it’s imploring its practitioners to look at the world from this ultimate sense, or it’s at least passing it down in that way. It’s written as if it is conveying a conventional sense of things, but the conventional sense as perceived by one with the “ultimate perspective”. This strikes me as different from most religious teachings, which are inherently condescending and write of ultimate reality in the most romantic and other-worldly ways possible.

6 Responses to “Burn yourself out”

  1. That’s a good point about Zen. Ultimately, there is no distinction between the “mundane” and the “ultimate” from a Zen perspective. After all, Buddha is a “dried shit-stick”.

    I really don’t know too much about the Tibetan schools of Buddhism but from what I’ve seen they adopt a completely different approach. Being the pragmatic soul that I am, if I were to convert to Buddhism I think I would either go with Zen or Theravada.

  2. Yeah, although I try to stray from that kind of classic Zen dialog. Hearing Zen people constantly recycle the same quips and koans can make you a very unhappy person. Just hang around e-sangha for awhile to see what I mean.

    I’m not trying to make some sweeping judgment of Vajrayana schools, but I will anyway — they do appear to be pretty ambitious or emphasize the “magical” elements of the Buddhist tradition.

  3. Oh believe me, I’m well aware that that sort of “dialogue” tends to go in circles—especially on the internet. I think the koan tradition has become popular in the west for all the wrong reasons, and it makes it relatively easy for somebody to pass themselves off as being infinitely wise when in reality they’re just being obscurantist and vague.

    My impression is that authentic Zen schools are aware of this and try to conduct koan practice in such a way that minimizes the BS factor. Sadly, there’s no real way to do this over the internet, and so message forums attract these kinds of people like the damp attracts mold.

    The Gelug sect seems somewhat free of the ambition, but as I said I don’t know very much about Vajrayana.

  4. parallelsidewalk Says:

    Tibetan Buddhism is a very mixed bag for me. I’ve met people (Tibetan and Western) from those traditions who seem like very insightful, balanced people but on the whole it seems like a really cluttered set of thoughts without much clarity. As much as Theravada and Zen are arguably the two furthest removed branches of the sangha, they also seem to me to both generally have the most bare bones, realistic way of looking at practice and the nature of self. I don’t want to idealize either; Theravada is very much part of the repressive establishment in much of Asia (although it is also at the forefront of the revolution in Burma) and I think Zen has a tendency to breed some pretty messed up, bull headed people.

    I need to avoid seeing a tradition that is stripped down as inherently better though. In Islam, it’s very possible that the most stripped down tradition is Wahabism/Salafism, which is insanely strict and repressive.

  5. That’s a good point about how “stripped down” doesn’t always equal “better”. I think I’m very much prone to the same fallacy (it’s definitely why I’m attracted to Theravada and Zen Buddhism). Thanks for brining that up.

  6. […] I think one thing that Stefan Kosen (one of Deshimaru’s dharma heirs) said that really resonated with me in the documentary, Le Chant du Dragon, was that it is absolutely […]

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