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Zen Buddhism
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Well, the post below that talks about where non-believers get hope has meandered around on the topic of Buddhism quite a while, so I thought I'd give it its own topic-level entry.

I asserted, among other things, that Buddhism has strains of anti-intellectualism running throughout all branches. Mike focused particularly on Zen Buddhism, saying that I'd expressed misconceptions and posting a link to an interview with a Dr. Austin.

Some excerpts from the interview (if I'm misrepresenting these or taking them out of context, by all means, please correct me):

To begin with a loose generalization, one might say that Zen meditation involves a kind of not thinking, clearly. And then proceeds to carry this clear awareness into everyday living.

This jives with my contention that practices such as meditating on Zen koans is not actually thinking, but is meant to be the antithesis of thought. A typical koan, such as:

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

is meant to put the mind into a sort of strange loop, by asking either purposefully unanswerable or circular questions. Meditation is about voiding the mind. Or again, am I misrepresenting Zen?

Before I started Zen training, I could never have imagined how it would feel to lose the "self."

I gotta tell you, I don't want to lose my self. Realizing that you are part of the world around you, yes, that's important, but not an especially profound insight. Neither is empathy, which likewise is important. But personally I think these notions should be balanced with one's own personal needs. I don't think expunging yourself is psychologically healthy.

Likewise, I don't see why humility and empathy, in balanced doses, cannot be acquired rationally, as opposed to "intuitively"?

Again, words are veils standing between us and reality.

See, things like this sound pseudo-profound, but they don't make sense if you really think about them.

I don't think words are "veils standing between us and reality". Words are symbols that are crude approximations of reality. They allow us to attempt to relate reality to others that they cannot perceive directly (e.g., I can tell you about my trip to the Grand powers of description are always going to be a pale shadow of the actual experience, but you can get the gist).

If he's talking about "directly experiencing the world", then he's talking perhaps about looking and hearing and smelling an experience (perhaps a field full of flowers) outside the framework of language. Oftentimes we say things like "Oh, it was indescribable" or "It was beyond words". Or maybe he was talking about experiencing something with pre-linguistic faculties, as a cow might experience something. I don't know, but I think viewing words as things that obscure reality, rather than try to render it, is an extremely wrong-headed way of looking at language.

Honestly, though, I don't think I misrepresented Buddhism in general or Zen Buddhism in particular. A lot of the language Dr. Austin uses seems perfectly in line with much of what I'd already read and learned about Zen Buddhism. All the talk about voiding thougts and purging the self honestly have a somewhat cultish feel (many cults talk about sublimating the self to the whole, achieving inner peace, and involve lots of chanting or mediation to "cleanse the mind"). I'm not necessarily saying Zen Buddhism is a cult, but it does have some commonalities.

Mike, if you could, or anyone else who cares to do so, can you give me a sense of the insights and perspectives particular to Zen Buddhism that I could not acheive through rationality, and why I would want to do so.

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