Friday, June 25, 2010

assured assumptions

Like some shameless politician who votes to send other men's children off to war and then praises those children as "heroes" when they return in flag-draped coffins, I am sometimes free-wheeling and assured and too glib by half in my assumptions.

What made me think of this was the funeral at which I will say a few words about the deceased this evening. Fran was a Zen Buddhist for twenty or more years, so it is within that framework that the family expects me to say something -- something for Fran.

And as I thought of what I might say, it occurred to me that although I had never met Fran and that the biographical information I had was sketchy and second-hand at best, still, when someone said he was a Zen Buddhist for 20 years, I knew a hell of a lot about Fran ... more, perhaps, than even the friends and family members who plan to assemble.

Really, I felt utterly assured and cozy as a well-washed shirt.

But what was I assured about? Where did I get off being comfortable about another human being? Wasn't I just ascribing to Fran experiences and comforts and leanings that I had experienced? As I picked at it, the assumption struck me more and more as presumption ... and yet...

There is a clubbiness about Zen Buddhism -- at least on the surface. Those who practice have gotten beyond the Alan Watts stage and know what it is to squirm and yowl and laugh. To speak of a right knee on fire is to evoke an instant camaraderie.

But what really fried my presumptuous grits was this: Without any fear of contradiction or controversy, I would say that a practicing Zen Buddhist is a person of courage, of determination, and of kindness. And I'm not trying to polish halos here -- any practicing student is an amalgam of capacities ... and yet, even so, courage and determination and kindness are bright.

I would say all this of others with the same slick-willy ease that a politician might use the word "hero." But when I turn the mirror around and consider my own version of Zen Buddhism, I would never say that I was a person of courage or determination or kindness. It's not some toe-in-the-sand modesty that seals my lips. It's more the fact the in some strange way, courage and determination and kindness are utterly irrelevant to the practice of Zen Buddhism.

Sure, for assured conversational purposes, courage, determination and kindness.

But for real time usefulness ... cut the bullshit!

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