Slobodan Škerović

Rescued from the Gorgon's Gaze

(A short autobiographical Zen-analysis)

Is Zen named after Zeno?[1] This is the false question which directs us to the true answer. Likewise is the question: Is Descartes a rationalist? And the answer is: yes, Zen gets its name from Zeno and no, Descartes is not a rationalist.

Since my first encounter with Zen, through Suzuki's and Fromm's essay, „Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis“, Devide's „Haiku“ and Kerouac's „On The Road“, more than half my life has gone by. In the meantime, I lacked the intelligence to comprehend that Castaneda's teachings are not only 99% Zen, but a full 100%, and probably more, but this also, I understood in the end, just by translating into Serbian one book of Daisetz' essays on Zen.

Because the answer to a question about the meaning of life is always „42“[2], it is impossible not to conclude that Zen helped in finding out that answer, at least when it comes to my humble self.

In the beginning, Zen appeared to me to be something happy and carefree, but simultaneously powerful and elastic. As Zen is usually being compared with western philosophy, western philosophy, in accordance with the given equation, always looked, to me, like something exceptionally boring and overly strict. But my little life was engaged in, despite my disgust with the West, clearing up some special aspects of this ever-present conflict between Zen (East) and West.

I must now speak of how I think the relationship between Zen and western philosophy is, in fact, a false dilemma. In truth, it turned out that the concept of western philosophy is not really a true philosophy, but a lie, a false pretense. When one, in this context, thinks „West“, one well understands „rationalism“. Western rationalism relates to Zen as if it were a grain of pepper - Zen is something interesting - small, but spicy. And that is all. Because rationalism cannot at all move farther than that - rationalistic analysis is very shallow - empirical, so to speak.

Zen probably helped me comprehend to what degree the West is a plain „lie and mimicry“. While I was reading Descartes' „Meditations“, I always felt, somehow, abused by „assertions“ that Descartes is „the father of western rationalism“. On the other hand, my experience, told me beyond a doubt, that Descartes is a mystic, an existential philosopher. In his own meditations, he came up with the same results and conclusions as Gotama Buddha, more than two thousand years before. Gotama, also, was certainly a master analyst. However, no one ever called him „the father of eastern rationalism“. Carefully, I concentrated on René's statement „cogito ergo sum[3]. Someone undoubtedly, tendentiously, translatedcogito as „think“ (it is a convention, actually). But cogito, in fact, means „know“. This falsehood is the foundation of the whole of western rationalism, and it turns out that when Zen is compared to this false „existence“ it is being degraded to the same level and thus rendered valueless. And because Zen is the philosophy of Existence, it is clear that the goal of this deception is to devaluate people's existence, and to bring it into the function of a false idea and nothing more than „just“ the idea of life. But it isn't necessary to defend René from the rationalistic monster. His „provisional morals[4]represent the same „method of living“ as prescribed by don Juan as „rules of stalking“[5] or Jung's „process of individuation“, or even Eckhart's claim that „man must not explain (rationalize) this conduct - because man is, before all, the active principle which acts upon its freedom and not on the basis of its ratio.

It goes without saying that the one who set for himself as a goal: to „understand“ the meaning of life, does not find himself in danger of transforming into a stone before this kind of hard rationalistic view, for which the old Greeks had found an appropriate symbol.

Among other things, Zen also means: Shutting up (the snout of the) Eloquent Force - which, therefore, includes Zen among the martial arts. Zen's specialty is a hard blow on the mouth with a bamboo stick, when the mouth begins to vomit disgusting things (about which Jesus also spoke and worked on during his own time and to which he made a considerable contribution)[6]. It is interesting enough to remind ourselves that Nietzsche also stated aloud his desire to use the hammer, instead of the tuning fork, and play with it on the Symbols. Zen is, therefore, also a musical discipline.

That Zen is a musical discipline, can be attested to by anyone who listens to Bach's music. Just listening to his music, a person can experience „satori - sudden enlightenment“ - realizing that: forms do not arise one from another, but Someone else creates them.

This is really a significant discovery in the life of an individual. The consequence of this understanding is that one's life is fundamentally changed as well as one's attitude towards life. Namely, the cause of life is not only in life, and accordingly, life is not at all essential.

Now is an opportunity to return to Zeno, who, although he is recognized for his Zen-aporias (desolations), should be more well-known for his final confrontation with death. According to extremely unreliable source(s) (Hegel[7]), Zeno's last living action was to bite off his own tongue and spit it at the face of his tyrant-tormentor, who later crushed him in a big mortar - but, this was also this tyrant's own last act, because his own followers, disgusted with his deed, beat him down. This condensed story about life can easily be compared to the story of the Zen master who refused to give up a deserter, and was rewarded by being burnt along with his temple - with a smile on his face. And as ratio cannot deal with aporias in the end, so it cannot deal with life in the end - these two histories are clearly models for speaking about truth and lies. It is now completely clear that because of this, Socrates did not run to „save“ his wretched life, but he gladly (in Zen[8]) rode into death.

Zen is a way to confront death, to comprehend a stone as an „eternal fire“[9] and to force 2 and 2 to become 5.[10] That is the way to break out of the boundaries which ratio prescribes and that frees one from fear of responsibility, to breath where we will.[11]

[1] Zeno of Elea.
[2] See „Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy“, Douglas Adams.
[3] „I know therefore I am“.
[4] See „The Discourse on the Method…“.
[5] See „The Eagle’s Gift“, C. Castaneda.
[6] See „Gospels“.
[7] Hegel’s source was Diogenes Laertius.
[8]Zen“ is a Japanese way of saying „chan“ and „chan“ is a Chinese way of pronouncing a Sanskrit term „dhyana“ and each of these words means the same: bliss.
[9] Heraclites.
[10] Dostoyevsky.
[11] „The spirit breathes where it will“ – from the „New Testament“.

Text was published in „Signal“, Belgrade, 2003.

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