RE: virus: Zen (was Lakoff Lecture)

Robin Faichney (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 11:51:00 -0000

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
>[Robin Faichney wrote:]
>> I don't know whether the implication that Zen is pure while
>> Buddhism is cultural baggage, was only in my own mind or not,
>> but in any case it's rubbish. Purity is in the mind of the beholder,
>> and it is beheld in (other) Buddhist traditions just as in Zen (and
>> in other contexts altogether, of course).
>"Purity" is a value-judgment

That's what said! (Well, it's what I meant, anyway.)

>and I wasn't expressing any evaluations

You mean you weren't *consciously* expressing any evaluations.
What you communicate and what you mean to communicate are
not necessarily identical.

>(though I certainly have them).


>I was making a philosophical reply
>to the criticism of Zen on the grounds of Buddhist mysticism by pointing
>out that the two really don't have anything to do with each other, even
>if they might have the same goals (I do not concede that they do).

If we take "mysticism" in its technical sense, which is very different
from "mysterious" or "mystifying", I think you'll find that Zen is just
as mystical as (other varieties of) Buddhism. In this context it
means something like non-rational and/or experiential. Having
started with a preference for Zen and only gotten into Tibetan due
to the (non) availability of teachers here, having done quite alot of
reading in the area, and having members of our Buddhist
discussion group who are much more into it than myself, I'm
perfectly convinced that Zen and Buddhism in general have the
same goal(s). If you have any specific reasons for doubting
that, I'd be interested to hear them -- but I think that would be
going too far off topic for the list (which I'll admit this probably
is already).

>Things like karma, noble truths, sutras, pure land, wheel of life, and
>such are cultural baggage of various forms of Buddhism.

You seem to mistake the map for the territory. Of course, the ways
in which various ideas are expressed will be culturally relative, but
karma, for instance, can be understood as expressing a profound
truth about the way we unconsciously condition our own minds,
that I think you'd be very hard pressed to find any Zen teacher
dismiss as either untrue or irrelevant. Similarly, the wheel of life
encodes a subtle psychological truth (or a set of them), and such
realisations can be the occasion of satori. "Just sitting" and slightly
more active contemplation of the ways in which our minds work are
equally valid ways of approaching exactly the same goal: realization.

>I express no
>opinion as to their relative value for achieving whatever goals they
>intend--I don't care to spend my own valuable time and brain cells on
>them, because I prefer solid philosophy.

How do you define/distinguish "solid" philosophy? :-)

>I only point out that the
>practice of Zazen and the experience of Satori has nothing to do with
>those things, and are valuable exercises even for a philosopher.

*Even* for a philosopher? Goodness me. But maybe you mean just
that the use of metaphor is not *real* philosophy. I don't believe that
the ontology of abstractions is a worthwhile concern, so I'll happily
let that go. But back in the real world, metaphors are among the
most ubiquitous and most useful mental tools we have -- and the
fact that some folk mistake map for territory is not a good enough
reason to ditch them.

(And, now I think about it, this is psychology, not philosophy, anyway.
But is it *solid* psychology? :-)

Robin Faichney