All About Zen

What is Zen?

Honestly, I don’t know. That is why I decided to take a class on it. Zen Buddhism taught by Kenney at Kansai Gaidai. I suppose there are many reasons why I am interested in Zen. It is associated with Samurai and Bushido, at least in america and I have always wondered how killing people can be reconciled with the whole suffering is bad, everything is suffering and everyones suffering should be eliminated bit of buddhism.

The other source of my interest stems from my computer science background. This idea of striving for simple and elegant solutions seems to fit well with hacker culture. An example of this cross-reference would be the AI Koans.

Maybe, I have confused Zen alittle with the Tao. I studied the Tao in a philosophy course a while back. They could be somewhat related in their world view. Something about flow and natural systems.

Maybe Zen is about sharpening the mind. Meditation is a way of focusing concentration and improving the ability to do so. Zazen (Zen meditation) can be pretty strict but I have read that it is at once a freeing and extremely boring thing. That makes sense to me though, because often meditation leads to introspection and ones own thoughts are both.

Today’s class was only an introduction and went over much of what is not in the course–Kenney teaches several religion courses and their focus differs alot. She said that this course is going to be mostly about ideas, focusing on doctrine and literature and less about practice. I took one of the other classes last semester, Religion in Japan, which focused on practice and beliefs of many different religious groups in Japan (kinda figures with the name, huh?). It was fun, but it didn’t go in-depth on any particular subject. Thats okay though, because I can now go to pretty much any religious place in Japan and at least have some idea as to what is going on, even if it is not a good one.

Back to Zen.

Speaking of practice, today I learned something interesting about the difference between Tibetan Buddhism and Zen (the two most popular in the states now). Tibetan Buddhism practice focuses on academic study, reading and memorizing tracts of the various Buddhist scholars and debating them. These details are extrodinarily important. Zen, on the other hand throws out those details, focusing on simplicity and elegance. The result is that students of Tibetan Buddhism often find Zen to be too simplistic and superficial.

Kenney talked about a professor who had her term here last semester. She taught a class on Buddhist ethics that she said she developed at her home university in the states over several decades, or at least that is what I remember from her introduction of the course in august. One day, she went to a Zen temple for meditation (Zazen). I guess at meditations they have monks speak-I went to a Tibetan style mediation while I was in the states-and she listened to their ?service?(not sure of the word here). When she came back she related to Kenney that she thought that the service was too simple and lacked depth. I guess this story could serve to illustrate the earlier point. Details vs Simplicity.

I think that another aspect of this different comes from Japanese culture. From the class I took last semester, and other sources I know that often ritual (procedure, the way of doing it) is more important than ideas or belief in Japanese religious practice. I don’t know whether this is a recent thing or not though.

I am looking forward to studying more Zen and getting these things cleared up more effectively.

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