Why Zen Now?

by -
Deshimaru next to a picture of Bodhidharma.

By Taisen Deshimaru:

Civilization at an Impasse

“Science advances rapidly because it can borrow the knowledge of others. But our human quality cannot be borrowed by anyone, and this is why we are not evolving.

This creates the worrisome situation of innocent children playing with deadly weapons.”
-Master Kodo Sawaki

Our times are characterized by great developments in science and material means; but human consciousness, our understanding of life and our relationship to the universe have progressed very little.

Scientific truth advances, but its explanations of the universe remain provisional, one theory following on the heels of another. Just as a geographical map is not the land itself, so scientific understanding of reality is an approach, but does not touch reality itself. It is, as the Zen masters say, “mistaking the finger that points to the moon for the moon itself.” Like Master Dogen in the thirteeth century on the subject of space-time, the great Zen masters always had a global and intuitive understanding of the reality of the universe, beyond theories.

In our time, science and technology are more at the service of economy and war than at the service of human beings. We increasingly cut ourselves off from our natural environment and are subject to desires which are more and more artificial. Material ease is often called progress.

Zen is not opposed to science and technology. But an overly materialistic life creates an imbalance in the individual. The Middle Way, zazen practice, creates a balance between materialism and spirituality, between material life and human consciousness.

Science, if it is not ruled by profound wisdom, provokes a decline in human consciousness and our way of life, and increasingly distances us from the cosmic system of which we are a part.

Modern education is based on the acquisition of greater and greater knowledge; it cultivates memory, Cartesian intelligence, logic, discrimination. The individual becomes a machine that thinks, calculates and records knowledge.

Society educates us according to conventions that teach us to judge things as good and bad according to criteria that come from acquired habits rather than actual experience. Without realizing it, we begin to operate according to social schemas, to the detriment of profound wisdom and true freedom.

We lose our vital force, our creativity, our intuition. We seek to find success in life rather than to make our lives successful. This creates an imbalance that often provokes anxiety and stress at the expense of vitality and energy.

Zen education, based on a practice for the body and mind, rebalances brain function. Intuition and creativity manifest through the practice of zazen, and we rediscover our vital force. We learn to know ourselves, and a true, global understanding appears. When we are faced with a particular situation, the appropriate gesture springs forth spontaneously and freely from the unified body/mind, from true wisdom.

Through zazen practice, human consciousness is raised and wisdom manifests. The body/mind balance is reestablished. In this way, Zen corresponds to the profound aspirations of humanity, aspirations left unsatisfied by current civilization.

Finding a Balance

In our era, humans are essentially thinking beings. Society, education, and scientific and technological progress considerably develop our logical brain and diminish our intuition and creativity. This results in an imbalance in the brain and in the entire being. It saps our vital strength (ki), which resides not only in the brain but also in all the nerves and cells of our body. Master Deshimaru said, “Is this how a truly human civilization should live? One doubts it. That is the danger of a materialistic civilization which takes away man’s spirit, his ki, his strength, and which sets his evolution back to an exhausted state of being.”

Material civilization is certainly necessary; but human beings also aspire to a principle which is beyond the material. Our lives, our aspirations are not only materialistic but also spiritual. Our activity should not only be towards the exterior but should also move inward, towards our minds, towards our consciousness. Master Deshimaru said, “You must stop working to feed yourselves, but on the contrary, eat in order to work to attain your great ideal.” And he added, “True spiritual help is giving ki, spirit, to others.”

The entire universe is filled with this force, this ki; our own lives are only waves in the unlimited cosmic life. To harmonize with nature, follow the cosmic system from which we came, reduce our ego which is made of desires and calculations–this is to be one with the universe and to benefit from its energy.

Zazen is not a religion. But it awakens religious principle, which means, literally, “to link”– to link humans with nature and the cosmic system. Zazen, practice of body and mind, awakens our vital force. It balances our cerebral functions as well as our nervous system; it balances the material and the spiritual; it harmonizes man and nature. Zazen balances our lives.

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