Constructive Loafing

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-07-23 21:00:00 No comments

I've known about Zen far longer than I have taken it seriously or practiced it. It took me years to go from being someone who was interested in it in a purely intellectual way to someone who engaged with it. The delay wasn't for lack of opportunity or good teachers, but because of a resistance within me that I've only recently identified.

For a long time, what I saw as this philosophy of passive acceptance at the heart of Zen prevented me from ever entering into it thoroughly. How is this, I thought, not a profound insult to the reality of suffering as we know it in the world? How was acceptance of things as they are not an affront to the fact that some things desperately need changing?

Part of why I found this hard to shake was because I encountered many other folks who said something akin to it, and since they seemed to have their own heads screwed on mostly straight, I decided they were probably right.

Then came a point where I found myself seeing the merit in Zen's paradoxical point of view, and where I felt obliged to no longer study it at arm's length but actually practice it. Eventually, I came face to face with the above dilemma -- that acceptance of things as they are seemed to be an affront to the fact that some things desperately need changing.

What I saw, in time, was that these two things were not in conflict at all, and were in fact completely complementary. The only way I was going to be able to properly affect the changes that desperately needed to take place was by first accepting that things were exactly as they were. Without that clearing-of-the-decks, nothing else could happen, because I wouldn't know what constituted actual progress without a clear head for it.

Early on in my Zen-ing, I read an interview from some underground artist type -- it might have been Mark Pauline, don't quote me on that -- who expressed disdain for "Asian thought." It was too passive, he said. The pejorative passive seemed to be the favorite one to fling at anything "Asian" or "Buddhist" or "Zen", and superficially it wasn't hard to see why. People sitting and staring at a wall for half an hour at a stretch don't seem like the greatest role models for action, do they? But like a lot of other things in this world that are known mostly by way of innuendo and misrepresentation, the truth turned out to be entirely different. "Passive" is the last word I'd use to describe people like Shunryu Suzuki or Brad Warner or Masao Abe.

Acceptance isn't passive. Ignorance, especially the calculated and studied variety, is passive. Acceptance requires you to rethink your concept of yourself in the world from the deepest possible level up. Ignorance requires nothing of you other than shoving things away.

Tags: Buddhism Zen philosophy