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Sundries
...a sweatshop of moxie

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Zendries

I am an Europhile, par excellence.

Rarely can you find a person less attuned to the wonders and glories of the East, than I.

I knew that immediately, when I spent many months in Japan, and realised that this most traditional, sedate, elegant of countries (in many ways, culturally similar to Britain), was not the place for me.

I don't say this with pride, mind you. Just self-awareness.

Such were my thoughts when I bought this hokey bit of nonsense from a chain bookstore, this past week.

A miniature Zen garden, a steal at $9.95.



Just the mere fact that it was a checkout impulse buy (I had gone to buy a copy of Vanity Fair -- the book, not the mag), makes it an ironic choice.

For Zen Buddhism is about careful meditation, where haste and impulse are frowned upon, snubbed precisely because one should never reward these two un-Zenlike qualities.

But there we are:

I walked away with a bit of sand, three black rocks, a miniature beige temple-thingie, and a rake.

From this, I saw a myriad of contemplative possibilities, and since I tend towards the minimalist anyway, perhaps I might just take to the simple pleasures of arranging them in harmony, daily.

I got it home, and started to "play" with it, immediately.

I read the smallish book which accompanied the miniature Zen garden, and read it from cover to cover.

But really, I should've been warned when I read this passage:

"If you recognise that constant change is the nature of existence and there is no point in becoming attached to anything, including yourself or the idea of "I", you stop suffering."

See, this short paragraph, though to be sure not to be taken all that seriously in some 10 buck handbook stuck inside a tourist tschoke, nevertheless does give you some insight, as to why I personally, could not be a Buddhist.

Suffering is the key to life.

It is the key to art. To writing. To believing.

When you accept that this world is full of suffering, and though most human beings have an inherent aversion to suffering, and run away from pain, rather than desiring it, then you realise that suffering must have a purpose.

In Christianity, suffering of course, has a very important place in the story of Our Lord.

Through his pain...in other words, his sacrifice through suffering, we know the true meaning of existing for others.

Though undoubtedly the world changes, the constancy of that example of suffering is for all time.

Suffering then, transforms itself from something which was very carnal, to an elevation of WANTING, and seeking sacrifice, as redemption.

I don't want to suffer, just as surely as I want to understand the world around me.

But I know that the "I", the me, which understands that pain is bad, realises that suffering elevates the human condition into something which no contemplative state could transcend.

Martyrdom is not particular to Christianity, by any means.

But that peaceful calm which Zen Buddhism seeks to inculcate in its followers, or in its trappings, is too ephemeral for this person to follow.

My garden is Eden, and suffering by being flung out of it precisely because one person went with their impulses, rather than after spiritual reflection, explains so much, too much about life.

It shows a cause, an effect, and finally, a lesson learned.

Well, perhaps not so much learned, as explained.

Which brings us to the next passage, which this handbook coughed up:

"According to Zen masters, words are there to steer us toward the understanding, or "satori" that is beyond expression.

As in the basic principles of linguistics, Zen Buddhism recognises that words have no actual connexion to the what they describe."


Yes.

Words can be arbitrary, no matter how much earnest we are in using them.

Perhaps this is why actions mean so much to us, in Christian thought, as Christ could have spoken about loving man in a thousand Gospels.

But it was his action, his "I", that made us believe.

...I think I'll play with my Zen Garden a little more.

Who knows, if yet I don't find an inner calm in the changing face of a garden.

The wisdom I think I'll find, by living.

P.S.: Or I could just play Rubik's Sudoku!



Sheesh. Talk about nostalgia. These Gen-X'ers just won't quit.

Makes you wonder if the Slinky Qu'ran is around the corner.

6 Comments:

  • Traditionally, the word (be it divine, written, or spoken) has a very different connotation in Japan's societal-cultural milieu. They even have a different kind of language for men and women each. Zen is all about measure, calm, reflexion, minimalistic philosophy, but a samurai could have been an accomplished Zen master in his own right. One moment he meditates, the next slids someone else open, spilling all the contents in a very unzenlike manner. That's the dichotomy of Buddism.
    Christianity, and specially Catholicism, is about passion. The Passion. And words, The Word. So our religious self equates us with people (of the same religion)from different cultures and backgrounds even if they have no commonality with us in ethno-cultural terms. Is being a Christian more difficult than being a Zen Buddhist? Yes.
    We just need not believe all the fake Hollyweird Zen masters.
    We need to leave alone that Western type of fixation with admiring other cultures per se. We should admire what is worthy, only.

    By Blogger Charlie Bravo, at Sat Apr 08, 12:56:00 pm GMT-4  

  • One of the results of my father's stroke was a little obsessive compulsive behavior. For father's day one year, we got Dad this item and it allowed him to "rake the sand, rake the sand, rake the sand" instead of "drive Mom nuts, drive Mom nuts, drive Mom nuts."

    So it's got dat goin' for it.

    Which is good.

    [Caddyshack references are perfect during The Master's, no?]

    By Blogger Ruth Anne Adams, at Sat Apr 08, 09:32:00 pm GMT-4  

  • Firstly, Charlie, allow me to congratulate you and thank you for such a measured, highly elegant reply.

    It was a joy to read this.

    Traditionally, the word (be it divine, written, or spoken) has a very different connotation in Japan's societal-cultural milieu.

    So I've had the matter explained to me, in Japan.

    I agree that my understanding, and therefore, appreciation of the topic may be flawed, although I'm not suggesting you were intimating that -- but what can be done?

    They even have a different kind of language for men and women each.

    Hmm, interesting.

    Zen is all about measure, calm, reflexion, minimalistic philosophy, but a samurai could have been an accomplished Zen master in his own right.

    In many ways, this is similar in principle to the monk-knights, who took vows of chastity and often, of removal from the earthly world, but who charged their Orders to fight and defend that which they considered important.

    What I am saying is that not always are reflection and action, necessarily contradictory -- in any culture.

    (Albeit this is an outmoded way of thinking, according to our more modern, compartmentalised Western society)

    One moment he meditates, the next slids someone else open, spilling all the contents in a very unzenlike manner. That's the dichotomy of Buddism.

    Very interesting.

    Christianity, and specially Catholicism, is about passion.

    100% bang on.

    The Passion. And words, The Word.

    A Judeo-inspired tradition, where the God of wrath, and vengeance (both acts of passion), is much in evidence.

    So our religious self equates us with people (of the same religion)from different cultures and backgrounds even if they have no commonality with us in ethno-cultural terms.

    Definitely.

    Is being a Christian more difficult than being a Zen Buddhist? Yes.

    Perhaps.

    In a superficial, modern way, insomuch that certain intellectuals discount Christianity above all other religions, and laud others, especially Eastern ones.

    Thus, to further hone the point, it becomes difficult to call yourself religious, without facing ridicule and even disgust from others.

    I realise you meant another, deeper point, but this is also a reality to be faced as a Christian.

    We won't even mention the cultures where choosing a religion that isn't theirs, brings you censure or ostracism (India, China, Cuba, North Korea) and even death (Afghanistan, most of the fundamentalist Islamic lands).

    We just need not believe all the fake Hollyweird Zen masters.

    Heh.

    We need to leave alone that Western type of fixation with admiring other cultures per se. We should admire what is worthy, only.

    Hear hear, Charlie.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Apr 09, 05:43:00 am GMT-4  

  • One of the results of my father's stroke

    I'm so sorry, Ruth Anne. :(

    I hope he is better now.

    was a little obsessive compulsive behavior.

    Which I tend to, as well!

    Very minor stuff, like tuning my car radio to a particular station ALWAYS before I turn off the engine, but still.

    Perhaps there is a pattern emerging for us Zen gardeners, given your dad's slight OCD.

    For father's day one year, we got Dad this item and it allowed him to "rake the sand, rake the sand, rake the sand" instead of "drive Mom nuts, drive Mom nuts, drive Mom nuts."

    Aww. Does he do it often? Where does he keep it?

    So it's got dat goin' for it.

    Frankly, I've become bored with it already, and didn't even rake all of Saturday.

    Which is good.

    [Caddyshack references are perfect during The Master's, no?]


    Chad Campbell, who?

    P.S.: Actually...I've never watched the Caddyshack all the way thru', but almost every guy I dated in the US, says it's the most highly quotable sporting film ever.

    Other than "League of their Own" and "Bull Durham", obviously. :)

    Only we on Sundries, Ruth Anne, could go from Zen to Bill Murray.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Sun Apr 09, 05:49:00 am GMT-4  

  • Not that I am an expert in Oriental languages, I just was in contact with some Japanese people many years ago, in the most unlikely of the settings: a remote rural area of Cuba, where they had a farming colony. They immigrated to the island at the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and from small patches of land they developed pretty nice orchards. For some reason, I landed in their midst. I befriended some of them and was their guest in a number of occasions. I happen to have a very good ear for languages, so I noticed that there was a certain difference in the way women addressed men, and viceversa. I asked, and they told me about a formal language that one use with one's elders and about the subtleties of the formal language, with totally different ways and even verbs used to communicate the same idea in "male speak" or "female speak". The colloquial language is the common ground for all Japanese, though. They also told me that the Imperial family has a very elaborated language that differs considerably from even the way the formal language is spoken amongst the high power classes in Japan. Which is not surprising, taking into account that both Spanish and English can be very elaborated languages where the society lines are very clearly drawn by the usage of both the written and spoken word.
    Bill Murray got lost in translation precisely because of the different mindsets.
    Going back to Zen, I remember that someone told me time ago that the Westerner cuts the flower, and therefore kills it to admire it, while the Japanese leaves in the plant and bows to smell it and observe it up close. By the same token, I answered, beauty in Western gardens, specially English gardens, is that the manmade is conceived in a way that it seems to be natural, while in a Japanese garden Nature is put in reins and so constrained by a paternalistic obsesion with control and symbolism that seems totally unrealistic, therefore manmade, and sometimes it looks, to my Western eyes, tortured through manipulation. For example the bonsais, so contorted and dwarfed. The goldfish, so deformed by mutations and inbreeding, and the women, so constrained by narrow vetements, with feet deformed to be smallis thus fitting an ideal of beauty that worships an unnatural ratio that goes against equilibrium.
    I prefer, then, to cut the flower.
    Let the Zen devotee enjoy the clapping of one hand!

    By Blogger Charlie Bravo, at Sun Apr 09, 09:02:00 am GMT-4  

  • Not that I am an expert in Oriental languages, I just was in contact with some Japanese people many years ago, in the most unlikely of the settings: a remote rural area of Cuba, where they had a farming colony.

    Ño! Que extraño. Japoneses en Camagüey o Pinar del Rio. ;)

    I asked, and they told me about a formal language that one use with one's elders and about the subtleties of the formal language, with totally different ways and even verbs used to communicate the same idea in "male speak" or "female speak".

    I knew about the formalities of their language, but not the male-female thingie, so thanks!

    The colloquial language is the common ground for all Japanese, though. They also told me that the Imperial family has a very elaborated language that differs considerably from even the way the formal language is spoken amongst the high power classes in Japan.

    Well, sure. That's one of the most striking parts of post-WWII Japan, when you hear Japanese people reminisce about the first time they heard the Emperor's voice on the radio, broadcasting their surrender to the Allies.

    Formal court Japanese not only employed stilted phrases, unused by anyone outside that milieu (which to a certain extent, is common to all Courts -- have you ever read the Court Circular? Sheesh, so ossified).

    And to boot, Hirohito affected a very high-pitched voice, not only natural to him, but also because the higher the voice in Japanese, the more cultivated/well-born the person.

    This is curious, since it's the exact opposite in Sweden and Spain -- whose low-voices are in vogue, because it was fashionable as used by their Royal Families.

    (This is why Greta Garbo had a very sultry voice, BTW)

    Which is not surprising, taking into account that both Spanish and English can be very elaborated languages where the society lines are very clearly drawn by the usage of both the written and spoken word.

    But especially in the UK. Not so much, in the US -- or at least, not to the extent we use it.


    Going back to Zen, I remember that someone told me time ago that the Westerner cuts the flower, and therefore kills it to admire it, while the Japanese leaves in the plant and bows to smell it and observe it up close. By the same token, I answered, beauty in Western gardens, specially English gardens, is that the manmade is conceived in a way that it seems to be natural, while in a Japanese garden Nature is put in reins and so constrained by a paternalistic obsesion with control and symbolism that seems totally unrealistic, therefore manmade, and sometimes it looks, to my Western eyes, tortured through manipulation. For example the bonsais, so contorted and dwarfed. The goldfish, so deformed by mutations and inbreeding, and the women, so constrained by narrow vetements, with feet deformed to be smallis thus fitting an ideal of beauty that worships an unnatural ratio that goes against equilibrium.
    I prefer, then, to cut the flower.
    Let the Zen devotee enjoy the clapping of one hand!


    !

    You are well-named, Charlie BRAVO.

    Cheers,
    Victoria

    By Blogger vbspurs, at Mon Apr 10, 03:34:00 am GMT-4  

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