Zennish thoughts

Some straight shooting from Huston Smith, The World’s Religions (p. 132):

Zen is not interested in theories about enlightenment, it wants the real thing. So it shouts, and buffets, and reprimands, without ill-will entering in the slightest. All it wants to do is force the student to crash the word-barrier. Minds must be sprung from their verbal bonds into a new mode of apprehending.

And this one from Te Shan, the Zen master notorious for burning all his Zen books following his awakening:

Those who have not attained awakening should penetrate into the meaning of reality, while those who have already attained should practice giving verbal expression to that reality.

Both these thoughts, discovered more or less at random on the Internet, give me pause. Ever since i began delving into Buddhism and Zen some three years ago, my writing life has waned in the face of those “verbal bonds.” I not only saw no way out of the conundrum of words artificially dividing the one world, i lost all interest in pursuing the verbal/written path.

The glaring paradox, of course, is the stacks of books written by Buddhist and Zen adepts — books full of words, natch — setting forth the principles and ideas of this supposedly wordless “mode of apprehending.” What’s a confused mendicant to do, stumbling around unguided in the dark?

The second quote offers up some light. Words, if not the only means for us to get into each others’ heads, are certainly the most common and arguably the most precise — and are therefore tools worthy of consideration, so long as one maintains the distinction between the signposts and the territory.

I still have little serious interest in writing, be it poetry, fiction or non-; it seems a secondary, derivative mode of being, as opposed to the immediacy of sense impressions and just plain living, moment to moment. But a person’s gotta do something with his days, and few of those potential somethings have any enduring import in the real world, and so storytelling is not (quite) out of the running. Yet.

The irony of this wordy post does not escape me.


Hah! The hidden engines of serendipity are firing. Stumbled upon (or was i invisibly guided to?)  this 28-second ejaculation from Terence McKenna:

What he says: Art’s task is to save the soul of mankind, and that anything less is a dithering while Rome burns. Because if the artists, who are self-selected for being able to journey into the other, if the artists cannot find the way then the way cannot be found.

Author: Greg Blee

Poster to my own gregblee.ca blog, and others.

One thought on “Zennish thoughts”

  1. Dear Greg B:

    I’m a friend of Huston Smith who’s just written (using words) an essay called “Lew Welch as Teacher” about my first mentor, Beat Generation poet Lew Welch. It comes in two sections, the second of which is “Freedom from the World of Words.” A poet is necessarily envolved with words — so what is a poet who’s also interested in Zen supposed to do? My essay gives Lew’s answer. Would you like to see it?

    Charles Upton

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