Some days ago, a radio presenter from the
Cote d'Azur called me on the phone, asking that I speak about Zen on
his broadcast. What had attracted his attention was the fact that my
site is entitled "Some Southern Zen". Naturally, when he asked why, I
had to tell him that it was some kind of inside joke about a friend's
site, Eric Romeluère's, entitled "Zen
(Western Zen) while I share with him the preoccupation of putting Zen
INSIDE our lives , rather than putting it on during a few periods,
every day or every week (or even less).
Indeed, what is often offered as "Zen" in
many places in France, is little more than an oddball setting for Japan
lovers, and which often seems strange even unto Japanese, since they
end up not even understanding what's supposed to be done in their
imitation. And often, with a lot of those who take part into that
carnival in black, you'd look in vain for what the popular wisdom
reckons as being a "Zen " attitude.
I have therefore tried to expound in a few
words the essence of what is for me a sound practice of Zen Buddhism.
Which is that Zen is an attitude towards existence, which amounts to
create a balance and a form of happiness, based on action at the
present moment. I gave some example relating to sports and the
motorcycle. Had I disposed of more time, I might have sprawled, but the
necessary concision of a reduced intervention forced me to use as few
words as could tell of such a vast subject. I just hope I wasn't too
I had been particularly astounded to realise
that the supporters of the variety of "Zen" heretofore evoked,
profoundly hated that popular use of the word Zen, as it were a
trademark of which they were the owners. And even more so astounded to
realise how they were totally inadequate in respect to that use.
This is what incited me to look for the
origin of those mental blocks. I felt it was a pity that those people
had dedicated so much time of their precious lives without their
everyday lives showing any positive trace of it. Of course, often they
will counter that the practice ought to be done without aim or goal.
I'll agree. However, I can't see why without-aim should correspond to
I shan't insist
on the origin, social and historical, of those mental blocks. I'll
limit myself to insist on the following points:
Zen cannot be parted from Buddhism. If you do so, you rob Buddhism from
its marrow and engage into an ethicalless path, which is deadly.
Zen (and thus Buddhism) is an attitude. An attitude towards existence,
one's own and that of others, for they form but one indissociable
whole. This attitude is one of mild optimism.
For instance, if you say that pessimists
start on a relationship by giving a 0/10 note to any new acquaintance,
in the hope that this will eventually better his/her notes, optimists
start with giving a 10/10 note. The first thus shut out many
possibilities from the start, while the latter expose themselves to
unavoidable disappointments. One ought to start with a 5/10 note and
observe how that note is going to evolve along with time, with
benevolence. When you're forced to see that this benevolence was
misused, you can put a term to it, without too much dramatisation.
Benevolence allows to understand (without
necessarily excusing) certaine attitudes, allows not to make a mountain
out of a molehill, and to free the spirits for things well worth it.
Benevolence ("to want good", or "to wish well", this is by the way how
modern Italian says "to love": "voler bene") is not merely a silly
attitude. Slapping a kid who's done something stupid, is also teaching
him that in life, there are much nastier, much more malevolent and much
harder slaps, if it's not careful of the order of things. Benevolence
can even be exertend in the shadow.
This attitude of Buddism is also one of
availability. Not necessarily of a permanent availability, like "I'm
letting go of everything for the other", but a subtler availability,
where you're ready to observe, to listen, to hear, to see what's around
you. And that can at times manifest itself as an intense fit of
happiness in front of a landscape, a scene, a scent or a sound. And at
times as an intense reactivity to what's happening, just as a sportsman
in the middle of action.
Finally, an attitude must be developed. It
needs training and study. And not necessarily litterary study, even
though this ought absolutely not be pushed back. But study in a wider
sense, like when you talk of studying a face, or a situation. And as
with music, you need training, training. Music, for instance, sounds
best when you get the impression that the musician doesn't do any
effort, that his playing is totally natural. But, in order to get
there, he'll need a remarkable quantity of effort, of practice,
practice and still more practice and rehearsals. Wht's funny, is that
if the whole of these efforts is insufficient, they'll say that the
performance was laboured, painstaking, etc.
Globally, in a finished produce, you ought
not feel the effort, and this is the reason why at the moment of
playing his score, the musician doesn't do it for a purpose, but, to
the contrary, casually, just because he's got to do it, or as said one
of my teachers in the Conservatory: "What deserves to be done, deserves
to be done well".