Charles Stater: Zazen (Second Semester)

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.


4 thoughts on “Charles Stater: Zazen (Second Semester)

  1. OMG, this is definitely a great experience. I am also surprised that it is the second semester you do this CIP. As mentioned by you, this CIP provides you lots of opportunities to think and contemplate. This is pretty important, especially nowadays. The world is changing so fast; therefore, many people are just overwhelming. By taking take and really think through who you are, what you are gonna to do are very significant. Only when people clearly understand themselves, is it possible for them to succeed. Last but not least, keep this thinking habits and you will be amazing when you work in the Financial Industry in the future

  2. This is really well-written, and it sounds like your experience transcended a language-positive barrier, which ultimately is exactly what you want out of learning a language, right? To be precise, I mean being able to learn something new and understand someone else’s perspective and world views when communicated in Japanese, rather than using conversation as simply a means by which to practice Japanese. However, I am curious what made you interested in exploring an experience like this in the first place. Was this your first time doing something of this sort? Do you intend to continue meditating? I am also wondering if you felt as if the language barrier was ever a problem in regard to understanding one another. I would imagine that something of this sort has a lot of extremely specific and abstract vocabulary. Yet having to talk about such things for an extended period of time every week must have elevated your Japanese to a new level. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your CIP and I look forward to picking your brain about it!

  3. This sounds like a great experience! Rather than solely learning Buddhist creed through the classroom, you were able to understand it from hands-on experience with experts. It’s awesome that you were able to immerse yourself in something so central to Japanese society in such a short time. It seems like you got some valuable ways of thinking out of this, and I hope you remember what you’ve acquired when you go into the future.

  4. Hey Charles, that sounds like a fascinating CIP. I remember hearing you talk about those conversations with your priest. You seem to have gotten more out of your CIP than almost everyone. I remember you mentioned that the reason you feel Buddhism is incompatible with the modern world is because it demands that you removed attachments to your own sense of self and worldly desires. Do you believe that Buddhism, if it is to be faithfully practiced according to its doctrine is incompatible with any society? Even a pre modern Japanese society for example?
    It does seem that Zen meditation has been helpful to you. How do you plan to cultivate the spiritual benefits of Zen despite its contradictions with modern society?