Is Zen is the opposite of life?

Prompted by reading a chapter on Zen in “Gödel, Escher, Bach”:

Zen seems to be a sort of holism to the extreme… dissolving the self to become one with the universe and achieve enlightenment.

In some ways I see the use for this viewpoint while meditating and as a relaxation technique. In particular the concept that all the universe and time in static and immutable, and time and space is mere illusion, has a remarkably calming influence (at least for me). In some ways this reminds me of something I did that was somewhat odd as a kid. I think I first thought this around 5… I found time strange, and my memory of it also strange, thus I decided to imprint a distinct memory of that moment. I was sitting at the dinner table and I focussed on the fork I had. I can remember this moment, whereas many other parts of my early childhood are but a blur. There are other moments too, such as when I was riding a bike home in a ridiculously strong wind at age 11… again I committed this to memory because I reasoned “this is incredibly hard work, I feel exhausted! But in but 30 minutes I’ll be at home and this will purely be a memory. In fact, it may as well not be happening since this is a small fraction of my total experience at any time and will continue to get smaller as I continue in my life.”

Did other people do this too? Or was I just a somewhat strange kid?

Zen philosophy is somewhat relaxing and find kōans play novel games with the logic in our heads. As a life philosophy however, I think it’s flawed since the separation of us from the rest of the universe is what makes us human. In fact, it’s what life is all about. The localised increase in pattern and extropy within a system. Maybe Zen boils down to being an acceptance of possible the heat death of the universe when everything becomes a homogeneous soup? Which, if time is but an illusion has already happened and is the culmination of the universe’s evolution!

Before I sign off, time for a kōan:

A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of the ancestral teacher’s coming from the west?” Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in front of the hall”.
case #47 of the Book of Serenity

Zen also seems to have mastered the art of surrealistic humour.



4 comments ↓

#1   Jon on 07.31.08 at 3:23 am

Yeah I used to do that ‘one day this will just be a bad memory’ thing too when I was a kid, usually when being forced to do physical exercise. But of course remember that just because I did it too doesn’t mean it’s not weird…

The bad thing about it was that whenever I was doing something enjoyable I found myself thinking ‘one day this will just be a distant memory too’. Depressing!

#2   Zeren on 08.02.08 at 1:18 pm

I did that, when I was little. I guess more in a bit somewhat different way too.

#3   Jonathan El-Bizri on 08.06.08 at 6:41 pm

I didn’t – I just complained. :> And isn’t focusing on the present as temporary illusion the exact opposite of zen? :>

I understand Zen to be not so much the opposite of life as a recognition that we build our mindful existence on faith: faith in our sensations and cognitions and in logic: in other words, the most fragile of foundations, but all we have.

In a time of many unknown unknowns and fewer known unknowns, this made more sense as a loci of thought. But today, with so many known unknowns on the horizon, the promise of enlightenment through striving for yet-to-be attained knowledge makes zen seem a less relevant, less attractive philosophy, IMO. Or maybe the potentialities are an illusion that distract us from mindfulness we are living and breathing already?

Godel, Escher, Bach ought to be required reading for everyone. Though I’ve yet to get anyone I’ve tried to convince to pick up the damn thing :>

#4   Leteur Alix on 12.08.08 at 4:39 pm

Since childhood i use to contemplate things , like you did with your fork,
i guess most people do that when they’re young ,
maybe that kind of perceptions are inherently part of us from the beginning? (i’m vague but i mean something esoterical)

anyway, as a programmer, i still enjoy a lot to do that, very relaxing, liberating feelling, the mind stop, good thing sometimes , don’t you think so ?

Leave a Comment