Of the things that interested me about the study and practice of Zen were statements like “chop wood, fetch water, seek enlightenment”. Statements that Zen is intensely practical piqued my interest. I’ve stated before that I’m a Pragmatist (“do what works”). I came to this conclusion on my own, through experience and study – but more of the former than the latter. The study of various philosophies has helped me greatly: I’ve been able to pick and choose what I liked and left the rest for the mindless zealots. If something didn’t make sense or didn’t work for me, I simply switched directions and read about other things.
To be sure, when I was studying Nietzsche, I was a Nihilist – but I was young. Hell, I’m still young (and still something of a Nihilist), but I’m not as inclined as I once was to shoe-horn my experiences into the tenets of a particular mode of thought. Yes, I am studying Zen Buddhism, but (at least right now) I’m not a Buddhist. One of the concepts I particularly enjoyed wrapping my head around is in one of D. T. Suzuki’s essays on Zen: his idea is that Zen is very much a living thing in itself – that it has flowed through time in the hearts and minds of its practitioners and has thus evolved (and I use the term loosely) to what it is today.
Even still, it is not a static thing, but malleable – we each interpret it in our own way and pass that on a little bit differently than the way it was transmitted to us. Suzuki says that the inside kernel – the basic principles, if you will – have not changed, just our expressions and interpretations thereof. These changes have to occur in order for Zen to fit into our time. Formalization leads to dogma, which leads to stagnancy and thus to rot. Zen (according to Suzuki) is the flower that blossomed when the seed of Buddhism was transplanted from India into Chinese soil. I love that analogy – good analogies are very important to lawyers. ;-)
Without getting carried too far away on a discussion of Zen’s roots (and I’m not that far into my reading, so my paraphrasing can only be inadequate anyway), my point is that this malleability is precisely one of the things that attracted me to Zen in the first place. Quotes like the following also really help me with my understanding of meditation:
“For studying Zen, one should have quiet quarters. Be moderate in food and drink. Cast aside all involvements and discontinue all affairs. Do not think of good or evil; do not deal with right or wrong. Do not intend to make yourself a Buddha, much less be attached to sitting still.” (Dogen)
I am not particularly attached to sitting still, which is why I prefer sun-walking and the active meditation that comes with yoga practice. Nor am I inclined to attempt to make myself a Buddha, because I am not a Buddhist.
I study philosophies in order to better understand my own experiences and to find better analogies to fit my own personal world-view. Being part Perspectivist and somewhat of a Solipsist, I’m less inclined to try to fit my thoughts into any particular category, and more inclined to find ways to refine my thinking – I enjoy studying things that underscore my experiences, not the other way around.
So far, I like Zen because I believe that by being true to myself, I am being true to Zen practice.