Twenty-Seven Years of Zen Destroyed My Life
There’s lots of Zen this and Zen that traversing the blog-o- and book-o-spheres these days, but few offerings have delighted us like Ken Korczak’s piece, a submission to Soul Shelter’s First-Person Essay Award.
Twenty-Seven Years of Zen Destroyed My Life
So I have been practicing Zen meditation every day for 27 years, and it has destroyed my life. Now, when I say, “destroyed my life,” that is not a bad thing, nor a good thing. You see, after 27 years of Zen, for something to be “good” or “bad” becomes a very problematic concept. Things like “good” or “bad” lose their meaning. Even the word “meaning” loses its meaning. So you can already understand why Zen has destroyed my life, even though it never happened. Zen did not destroy my life because my life was the way it was even before 27 years of Zen, except I didn’t know it.
It’s like what Zen master Shunryu Suzuki suggests in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. He says everyone is enlightened all the time, except they don’t know it. Now I realize that he was right. In other words, you don’t need 27 years of Zen to destroy your life because it has already happened to all of you. Suzuki also says that before you achieve Zen Enlightenment, you think it is something special, but after you achieve it, you realize that it is nothing special. He was dead right about that, too.
One of the problems, however, is when you have this realization it destroys your life, even though that’s not a problem because it never happened in the first place. In the end, nothing happens. There even isn’t an “in the end.” The fact that there could be “an end” to something is rendered ridiculous after 27 years of Zen, believe me.
I drive my wife crazy because I talk like this all the time, which is just one of the reasons why I say Zen has destroyed my life. For example, my wife might mention something Oprah Winfrey said on TV about how important it is for couples to communicate, and I say, “Oh that Oprah Winfrey is such a phony and a witless blockhead!” My wife retorts that Oprah makes some good points. Then I say the concept of “good” has no basic meaning. Oprah blabs on TV because it makes people give her money, that’s all. My wife can’t understand what I’m talking about. It’s a problem, yet my wife puts up with me, so it ends up not being a problem. This makes sense since there was no problem to begin with. You start realizing things like this after 27 years of Zen.
I once wrote a column on popular Web site. The article suggested that people should stop worrying about things simply because none of us have anything to worry about because of the obvious fact that none of us exist. The article spread like a virus across the Internet. In a short time, more than 1,000 posted responses suggesting that I was insane. Some people were insulted by my suggestion that they don’t exist, some called it a “whacked theory” and “mental masturbation” and a lot worse. I even got threatening e-mails.
Let me tell you, if you want to get people really upset, just suggest to them that they are not real, but only think they are real. Believe me, they will get extremely irritated with you. But why? It’s because people are heavily invested in the idea that they have an existence-a real, solid existence. They want that. Even if their lives are miserable, boring and bland, they will feel threatened if you suggest that their miserable lives are not real. What’s interesting is that if people are happy and leading exciting, adventurous lives, they will be less threatened by the idea that their lives are bogus illusions. They won’t care as much. They’re happy anyway, so why should they mind if anything is real or not? Still, even some happy people will get upset if you tell them they don’t exist. Suddenly they are less happy because they are afraid of the idea that they are unreal. They want their happy existence to be real.
Yet, the concept that some people are happy and some are unhappy is facile because these values or nuances have no basic meaning once you start thinking about them. After 27 years of Zen, to say “I am happy” or “I am sad” are empty statements that only diverts one-and the diversion is not even really a diversion because there is nothing to be diverted from. Get it?
You might wonder how all of this started for me. Well, when I was in college working on a degree in journalism, I took an elective class from the philosophy department. It was a one-credit class called “Zen Meditation.” It was 90 minutes once a week. What we did was, come to class, sit on a pillow, and stare at a blank white wall. All we did was stare at the wall and concentrate on our breathing. If we had “thoughts” we were instructed to ignore them, and not be bothered by them. After about 25 minutes of staring at the wall, we got up and did a walking meditation, which took about 15 minutes. Then we sat down and stared at the wall for another 25 minutes. After that, the instructor rang a bell, meaning we were supposed to stop. We were supposed to stop doing nothing, and start doing something again. That part is weird. Then he led a discussion about Zen, and we were to read Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
One of the hilarious things about the class was that there were two fundamentalist Christian Bible believers attending. They did what they had to do to earn their single, measly college credit, including the meditation, but then in the discussion portion, they heaped scorn upon the whole thing and kept saying things like, “This is all so ridiculous! Why can’t people just read the Bible and find out what Jesus wants for us, follow His advice, and then lead a good, moral life?” And they would also say things like, “We’d all be better off giving our lives to Jesus and not wasting our time staring at a blank wall!” For some reason, these comments caused everyone to laugh, even if they agreed with the Christians.
Yet, everybody hated the class, and not just the Christians. Only eight of the original 20 of us finished the class. I have to give the two Christians credit-they finished the class, but never gave up their loathing of it, and they never stopped urging people to “go with Jesus.” Anyway, staring at a blank wall is extremely difficult. It drives people crazy. Nobody wants to do it, or enjoys it, even if it means one college credit toward a diploma. What’s weird is that I not only finished the class, but for some reason, I continued to meditate at least once a day, and I have done so for the past 27 years.
A lot of people point out to me that I am obviously a political liberal. They think that this is a contradiction because after 27 years of Zen, I really shouldn’t be a liberal or a conservative, and that I should be neither, but this issue is just a big red herring. Whether someone is a liberal or a conservative is not the point. The point is to see that one is either a Liberal or a Conservative. If you’re a liberal, then be a liberal, if you’re a conservative, then be a conservative. You just see it for what it is. Get it?
I have a friend named Mike who is a brilliant computer scientist. He’s from North Dakota. When Mike figures complex math equations, he does them so fast it looks like he’s writing a letter. Mike thinks I am nutty, and, in his words, “a flake.” Mike is your classic skeptic and atheist. He is a materialistic guy. He doesn’t even believe in psychology unless it is behavioral psychology. Everything is about basic cause and effect to him. All the rest is speculation. So, anyway, I asked him that if he thinks I am such “a flake” why does he waste his time hanging out with me” And Mike said, “Well, you’re a flake, but you know you’re a flake. That’s different from being a flake.” I thought, “Wow! Mike’s life has been destroyed by Zen and the lucky SOB didn’t even have to stare at a wall once a day for 27 years!” But then, neither did I!
It’s the same for you readers. Like my life, your life has been destroyed by Zen. Some of you know it, some of you don’t. But it doesn’t matter whether you know it not because the situation remains the same. It took 27 years for Zen to destroy my life, but it wasn’t wasted time. It wasn’t anything. It would have happened anyway. But, ultimately, nothing happened. Nothing HAD to happen, so nothing DID happen. Get it?
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