Reality can be overwhelming. Increasingly I feel both my own life and society at large is being consumed with 用件; there always seems to be more business to attend to, more things to do. That is why I’m intensely grateful for my experience with Zazen this year. When I’m sitting with my monk, laughing about nothing in particular, my watch and phone sit and buzz in another room, disarmed. When I’m meditating, the real world can try it’s absolute hardest to ruin my peace, but my serenity is a fortress. Zazen has provided me with an escape to the society we are all bound to- and I can even practice my Japanese while I’m at it.
I learned a great many things in my time at Zazen this semester, but one stands out to me as the most salient- contradictions. How can I live a peaceful, unattached life when society rewards only the most extreme attachment? How can I live in this prison of human suffering, longing to escape to detachedness but simultaneously loathe to let go? Contradictions exist in every philosophy, to be sure, but having the chance to actually converse with a member of Rinzai Zen about contradictions within his ideology (and indeed within his own practices) has been a rare opportunity to sail beyond my mental horizons into unchartered waters. The most interesting of these contradictions is my priest’s marriage; the antithesis of Zen is to bind yourself to someone so closely. He still has yet to provide me with an answer, only telling me “it’s difficult” repeatedly and changing the subject as quickly as he can.
I feel like I’ve learned actually a great deal about general Japanese philosophy and identity from my time at Zazen, which has been incredibly interesting to someone like me with clearly a vastly different upbringing. There are so many unspoken rules, so many tiny rivulets of Buddhist influence coalescing to form the rushing stream of Japanese consciousness. Most difficult for me to understand is the emphasis on the group versus the individual- I still struggle to understand it, but my Zazen discussions have given me a special perspective on Japanese ideology and cultural history I would sorely miss had I done a different CIP.
I have learned kanji history, Buddhist history, the Buddhist perspective on the modern world, and far too much about the relative worth of escalators vs. bowls (hint; escalators are not the more useful of the two) in my Zazen CIP. I have been able to practice my Japanese and disconnect from a reality that seems only ever bent on sapping me of whatever happiness I can make for myself. I have found peace. I may not have the answers to any of life’s questions, or ever understand the willing subjugation of the self to the society, but at least I have learned there are ways to find peace still left out there.