Wednesday, June 22, 2011

bad boys

Some people take spiritual endeavor seriously.

Some are convinced by their own solemnity.

And some people can go nuts about baseball.

Yesterday and today, I was trying to find out (since my memory sucks) who it was in Zen Buddhism who burned a bunch of koans. Various email friends came to my rescue. Thank you.

In Zen, formal koans are sometimes used as a means of bringing intellectual and emotional life to a roadblock. One of the best-known koans is, perhaps, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" This is not a question -- assuming someone wanted to be serious about it -- that the intellect or emotion could answer. It stymies the mind.

Anyway, there was once a Zen teacher, Ta Hui, who burned a bunch of the hundreds of koans that litter the world of Zen Buddhism. Ta Hui was a serious teacher, so his act was not frivolous. The rough intellectual explanation of his act is that he didn't want Zen students clinging to the verbal, cultural or intellectual hand-holds that koans can seem to offer. He wanted people to get to the experience that Buddhism points to and requires some determined effort. In a sense, perhaps, he was a piano master encouraging his pupils to stop reading books about playing the piano. His apparently outlandish methods were one way of getting the point across. Everyone loves a bad boy.

But as I was chewing my cud about the topic, it occurred to me that anyone who was serious about anything -- baseball, money-making, bike-riding, spiritual endeavor, whatever -- might be well-advised to take a moment now and then to consider how intrinsically important or useful that 'anything' might be if all the props were suddenly pulled away, if suddenly the whole thing simply burned down. If there were no more baseball, what role would baseball play? If there were no more Buddhism, would Buddhism survive?

I'm not trying to encourage a world of mindless iconoclasts any more than I would encourage a world or mindless conformists. But what about it? -- how would any individual's seriousness or solemnity work out in a world in which that about which they were serious or solemn simply ceased to hold sway? When you take away god, how does god play out? I think that asking this question seriously can shine a light on what is serious and what is simply self-centered.

The unpetrified mind is naturally-inclined towards bad boys, towards asking the questions that oppose what is elevated. Without making too much of the bad boys, I think they have distinct -- and perhaps imperative -- uses.

No comments:

Post a Comment