Western people like to reduce whole concepts into dualistic parts. There’s the good and the evil, the happy and the sad, the valid and the invalid, the true and the false. It’s rather shocking that some people fail to acknowledge even a simple synthesis of two opposites. People choose staunch political or religious sides and end up just becoming what they hate.
Zen asks us to go a step further and to transcend thesis, antithesis, and synthesis by embracing all contradictions and acknowledging them as of the same root. Humanity’s fundamental way of perceiving the world causes us to see things in black and white. The grey area is often contemplated in a controlled way and not fully probed for fear of the unknown.
We like to think ourselves as the rulers of the Earth just because we can drive cars around, build skyscrapers, and do particle physics. Still, we’re just excretions of the universe like everything else. There’s no divorcing what we do from what anything else does. Dualism comes from a human arrogance and an overemphasis on the significance of humanity. We’re a product of this place— not the other way around.
The simple mind loves to pit single broad concepts against one another. There’s religion vs. science, jocks vs. nerds, moral vs. amoral. These are all bunk competitions. Concepts cannot fight til knockout like pay-per-view boxers. Our symbolic definitions of concepts are so subjective and arbitrary that to constantly think in terms of X vs. Y removes most of the nuance that makes life interesting.
I’d like to focus on an often frustrating comparison: head vs. heart. Feeling and thinking are somehow seen in opposition. We’re taught that emotions cloud judgment and that logic makes us cold and unfeeling. These are just tropes, simplistic renderings of the world that are about as realistic as sidewalk caricature art.
We should learn to acknowledge the head and the heart not as competing forces of will but instead as part of the same whole. They are interdependent and cannot really be divorced from one another. There are calculated feelings and emotional logics. You cannot be strictly logical or strictly emotional. You can’t choose to navigate the world as a fully rational being; there is no true definition of rationality, and logic is still founded on an artificial assertion that language and conceptual thinking can help humanity excel. Excel towards what?
It’s important to examine the part of ourselves that wants us to either be rational or emotional, the part that encourages polarities and forces us to see the world in terms of sides. People start to act like idiots (and often violently so) as soon as they become overly conceptual, or embrace any -ism with too much fervency. Use the head, the heart, and the hands. Don’t think of life as some sort of battle.