Dogen's "The Point of Zazen"

by Norman Fischer | February 03, 2006 at 7:29 PM

From Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 53 Feb 3, 2006 Charlotte's Way, Muir Beach

At the January 29 All Day Sit at the Headlands I spoke on Dogen's "The Point of Zazen." After the talk I asked people to get into groups, and to pretend that they were explaining to someone who was possibly in need, or at least seriously wanted to know, what was, from their personal point of view, the point of zazen. Why do zazen? What did it mean to them? And after the explanation had been given, the listeners responded: did what they were told make sense to them? Did it impress them or matter to them in any way? Then the roles were reversed, the listener became the speaker and vice versa. So it was a sort of off the cuff role playing exercise, and people seemed to enjoy it. Find it useful. While role playing is common in training programs of all sorts, it is never done in Zen. So, good, I am being experimental (while maintaining "quality control" of the tradition, at least I hope so) but wonder whether going this way eventually leads to too much fun and games, too much superficial Dharma. This is always the challenge: to be flexible, to work with people's actual lives, their actual needs, to empower them in what they feel, and at the same time not indulge or pander. 

In seminar the previous Wednesday night, we read a passage in Buber on "feelings and institutions," in which he says that institutions afford no community when they are cut off from our own deepest personal feelings and needs — when we are asked to leave out what matters most to us at the door when we enter — and that personal life, when it is merely a matter of the indulgence of our private feelings is no personal life at all. Within institutions and in our personal lives we find ourselves estranged from the true persons that we actually are. We become soulless cogs in the institutional wheel, raw and wounded egos.

In small group discussions I asked people to talk about "feelings," how they view them and work with them in the institutions they participate in, and also in their personal relationships. People in the seminar seem to understand that feelings are not just "mine," not just phenomena to be repressed or indulged, and that they don't always come from "inside." Feelings need to be invited and acknowledged, fully and completely, and then allowed to flow on — so that we're living within a stream of feelings we're free to act on and not act on, express or not express, and that all our efforts to meet the world as fully as possible have our feelings as background: but that it's the meetings, the being constantly opened and changed through the meetings, that is what leads our lives on. The feelings are the atmosphere of that. And I notice so often that it's never exactly clear what "I'm" "feeling." That is, feeling may be going on, but it may not be my feeling. And the feeling is quite various and is changeable as quicksilver: maybe I'm feeling something someone else is feeling; or feeling currents of feeling floating on the air; or feeling something from another lifetime; or feeling my own feeling but I'm having that feeling come in response to what someone else is feeling, that on my own in that moment I'd never otherwise be feeling this feeling. Our notion of what a person is, how we think of and experience that, changes from culture to culture and from generation to generation, but no doubt to whatever extent they have been conscious or not, feelings have always been a part of human life, we've always been awash in a sea of feelings (and all efforts, including Buber's, to define how that has been in the past or in another culture, are mere speculations, because we can never know. We find out and understand how we feel based on our fantasies about how others feel elsewhere and otherwise. No accident that the age of hyper self-consciousness is also the age of anthropology and cultural history).


From Zen Abbot's Journal Vol 53 Feb 3, 2006 Charlotte's Way, Muir Beach

At the January 29 All Day Sit at the Headlands I spoke on Dogen's "The Point of Zazen." After the talk I asked people to get into groups, and to pretend that they were explaining to someone who was possibly in need, or at least seriously wanted to know, what was, from their personal point of view, the point of zazen. Why do zazen? What did it mean to them? And after the explanation had been given, the listeners responded: did what they were told make sense to them? Did it impress them or matter to them in any way? Then the roles were reversed, the listener became the speaker and vice versa. So it was a sort of off the cuff role playing exercise, and people seemed to enjoy it. Find it useful. While role playing is common in training programs of all sorts, it is never done in Zen. So, good, I am being experimental (while maintaining "quality control" of the tradition, at least I hope so) but wonder whether going this way eventually leads to too much fun and games, too much superficial Dharma. This is always the challenge: to be flexible, to work with people's actual lives, their actual needs, to empower them in what they feel, and at the same time not indulge or pander. 

In seminar the previous Wednesday night, we read a passage in Buber on "feelings and institutions," in which he says that institutions afford no community when they are cut off from our own deepest personal feelings and needs — when we are asked to leave out what matters most to us at the door when we enter — and that personal life, when it is merely a matter of the indulgence of our private feelings is no personal life at all. Within institutions and in our personal lives we find ourselves estranged from the true persons that we actually are. We become soulless cogs in the institutional wheel, raw and wounded egos.

In small group discussions I asked people to talk about "feelings," how they view them and work with them in the institutions they participate in, and also in their personal relationships. People in the seminar seem to understand that feelings are not just "mine," not just phenomena to be repressed or indulged, and that they don't always come from "inside." Feelings need to be invited and acknowledged, fully and completely, and then allowed to flow on — so that we're living within a stream of feelings we're free to act on and not act on, express or not express, and that all our efforts to meet the world as fully as possible have our feelings as background: but that it's the meetings, the being constantly opened and changed through the meetings, that is what leads our lives on. The feelings are the atmosphere of that. And I notice so often that it's never exactly clear what "I'm" "feeling." That is, feeling may be going on, but it may not be my feeling. And the feeling is quite various and is changeable as quicksilver: maybe I'm feeling something someone else is feeling; or feeling currents of feeling floating on the air; or feeling something from another lifetime; or feeling my own feeling but I'm having that feeling come in response to what someone else is feeling, that on my own in that moment I'd never otherwise be feeling this feeling. Our notion of what a person is, how we think of and experience that, changes from culture to culture and from generation to generation, but no doubt to whatever extent they have been conscious or not, feelings have always been a part of human life, we've always been awash in a sea of feelings (and all efforts, including Buber's, to define how that has been in the past or in another culture, are mere speculations, because we can never know. We find out and understand how we feel based on our fantasies about how others feel elsewhere and otherwise. No accident that the age of hyper self-consciousness is also the age of anthropology and cultural history). 



Tags:
Category:

Norman Fischer


Please add a comment

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »