Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Practical Zen Through an Analogy

I have been reading Christmas Humphrey's book Zen Buddhism (© 1968). Apart from his amusing name, he does something that not many commentators are able to do: show how Zen is practical and beneficial to the practitioner.

When comparing Zen to a swimmer who enters the sea, he writes:

First, there is the self and the sea. They are distinct, and though I approach the sea I am of the land and air and move quite freely. Then I enter the water, and immediately the way gets harder. It is more and more difficult to walk; I am pushing a vast and shapeless burden of water in front of me. I am of the land and yet of the sea, and whereas the one no longer helps me the other has not yet fully received me. And so I struggle, buffeted with the waves, pushed here and there, yet still unable to use the seas in which I long to submerge myself. I know the worst of both worlds and the use of neither. Then suddenly I swim, and the sea becomes my carrier; it is the world about me and my friend. There is no effort, no more tension between two differing conditions, no more fear. I am one with the sea and yet still the self that walked on the firm sea-shore (86).
This is an extremely useful analogy of Zen. The Zen practitioner is able to accept themselves in their current situations. When the swimmer was on the sea-shore, which is metaphor for the self, he is a separate object from the sea. But when he tries to mix the two, when he tries to walk into the sea, he discovers the conflict: he must fully accept the situation, and let it take hold of him. So, he lets the sea take him, unencumbered by the transition from land to water. Even though the swimmer was accustomed to the shore, he allowed himself to place his fears and and efforts behind him in order to go with the flow, if I may use such a phrase. The shore and the sea can represent any single transition in our daily lives - transitions that may cause fear, suffering, other inner turmoils. The situation will not change. We can only control how we experience them.

I am learning that circumstances are guaranteed. There will be beneficial ones and there will be detrimental ones; amiable ones, and tragic ones. This is certain.  Why not embrace life's circumstances instead of finding reasons to deplore them? All so easily said, but almost impossible to do. I am still progressing.
The Zen way of doing things is to do them. Just like that (87). 

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