Zen for the world

Transcend discrimination of opposites

Discover total reality

And achieve detachment

This is true freedom.

Shinjingakudo – “Learning through the body and mind” Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)

Transcend discrimination of opposites is what I mean by include and embrace the opposites. Discover total reality in Big Heart Zen is what is meant by the Apex. And achieve detachment is what I mean by detaching from the opposites. This is true freedom.

Historically and traditionally Zen has adapted itself to its environment like water to its container. This is one of its most salient and beautiful characteristics. What makes Zen so unique is that its form is formless and its tradition is to go beyond tradition. Its masters are eccentric and non- traditional, and that is its tradition. Its fluidity and ability to manifest uniquely unencumbered offer some essential remedies for the difficulties and problems in the world today.

One such problem is the internal conflict arising within all major spiritual communities between the fundamentalists and the liberals. All the great religions are bogged down in fundamentalist dogma, unable to embrace or maintain a balance with liberalism. This is as true of Zen Buddhism and other practices of Buddhism that have taken root in the West as it is of all the other “ism’s.” It is an issue worldwide and no religion or culture can escape it. As you read this, there are lines being drawn between fundamentalists with ideas of what is right and wrong and good and evil and liberals who feel or believe that they are free from such rigid distinctions. Either view is limited and incomplete and one without the other destroys a relationship that respects the natural order of things. The fundamentalists cannot accept or include the liberals, and the liberals really do not accept the fundamentalists either.

The time has come for a third perspective which I call the “perspective of the visionary”, recognizing the inevitability of fundamentalism, or at least a fundamentalist perspective and liberalism, or at least a more liberal perspective. A visionary perspective sees clearly and without preference the pairs of interdependent opposites: yin is dependent on yang, Democrats are dependent on Republicans, Northerners on Southerners, Easterners on Westerners, men on women, women on men. It is the natural order of things that exist because of their position relative to their polar opposites.

Zen calls this natural order “co-dependent origination.” Everyone and everything is dependent on and connected to everyone and everything else. What I do effects everyone and everything else and what you do effects me and everyone else. The world is one.

The visionary perspective disappears as soon as we believe that we are some particular thing, or our lives are about something particular, and we disown or invalidate what we are not about or believe that we are not. So for example if I believe that I am a good person, I suppress or disown my badness. If I am an aware or conscious person, then I disown and make wrong the lack of awareness or consciousness. If I think I am an enlightened being then I make those whom I believe to be unenlightened inferior and less than me. If I believe that I am a good and ethical person then anyone who appears to me as unethical and bad I judge and make wrong.

So if I see myself as spiritual and otherworldly, then I put down worldly and so-called non- spiritual endeavors and actions. They become shadows of the spiritual person. In other words I disown everything that I consider to be not spiritual, like being greedy, competitive, an asshole, egocentric, boasting, selling oneself, undisciplined, sexual, and arrogant. Then what happens is my shadow, or those parts of myself that I consider to be unspiritual, are disowned. I then project these non-spiritual aspects on to other people and make them wrong, or even hate them for being so unspiritual. I divide the world into good and bad people, meaning spiritual like myself and non-spiritual like those ‘others’. I begin to equate success with being closer to the spiritual teacher or enlightened beings, or to having a position of some small degree of power, like getting to hand the teacher a cup of coffee or a tissue.

It is inevitable that we will distinguish between what we call right and wrong, good and bad. However, these are concepts, not absolute, fixed realities. They depend on our position or role, time and place as well as degree or amount. What is right one minute may not be right the next. Everything is dependent on circumstances. Fundamentalist views make these ideas of right and wrong into absolutes. This causes a great deal of narrow-mindedness and uptightness, a sense of me against you, a need to protect what I have worked so hard for and invested so much in being, and to prove to the world and to myself that I am right.

Infamous examples are the ultraconservatives who want to deny and pass laws against gay rights, while not wanting to admit to themselves that they are attracted to others of the same sex. This is very deep denial but it illustrates what I am trying to say about disowned aspects or voices.

The same things happen around money. Begging is seen as OK. So is borrowing, even when repayment is endlessly deferred or simply ignored. But earning money is seen as wrong. Some reputedly great spiritual people have had this disowned voice. The spiritual world is sometimes very hard on the marketplace world, accusing it of being inferior to the spiritual. This appears as a holier-than-thou attitude, disowning many of the qualities necessary for success in the world, with the result that ‘spiritual’ people lose the ability to compete and live in the world outside the monastic walls.

When we create this false dichotomy of right and wrong, we may even resort to terrible means to destroy the people we believe to be bad and evil. We then become the very evil that we hate, the evil materialists, the abusers. We hate that part of ourselves that we hate in others. It is all projected out there and not owned or embodied within.

When we embrace the opposites and go beyond them we are functioning from what I call the Apex perspective. By Apex I don’t mean a fixed place or position; on the contrary, because the Apex is not fixed or stuck it can hold the tension of opposites. We include the yin and yang or the fundamental and the liberal perspective and transcend them both. This is what I am also calling the visionary perspective, and what Doctors Hal and Sidra Stone call the “aware ego process.” Whatever name we call it, from the Apex we see that these two seemingly opposite perspectives are just that, perspectives. We can understand and appreciate each of them without being bound by either one. Then we can detach from both and declare our ownership and mastery of our own life.

Using Dogen Zenji’s phrase, this is what I call true freedom, which transcends free and unfree, which is freedom in the midst of suffering. To realize this visionary perspective is one of the fruits of Zen practice, which engages all the gifts and potential of our humanity: self-reflection, honesty, humility, courage, openness, flexibility, tolerance, compassion. In this way Zen, particularly mature and healthy Zen using Zen reflection or meditation, the Big Mind process and other skillful means and tools, can and does provide some of the remedies for problems we are facing today on a worldwide scale.

“There was one who was human and his humanity was thought to be his weakness but it turned out to be his greatest strength.”

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach

25 thoughts on “Zen for the world”

  1. Some interesting aspects of the liberal / conservative dichotomy emerge when each “side” is recognized as participating in the creation of the “other” from the same root impulse to act. Robert Pirsig elaborates on the evolutionary impact of this dance in “Lila”, and it seems that authors such as Andrew Cohen (“EnlightenNext”) touch on this dynamic as well. Pirsig emphasizes that the two extremes operate together like a a ratchet and pawl: one pushing the edge to embrace new possibilities, and the other latching on to what has worked in the past . One could argue that the current system is broken, that the latching mechanism is painfully stuck on plundering material wealth, but can we hear an echo of the ratchet clanking along with each new public debate, and recognize the accusations each side flings at the “other” as a sideshow in a much greater cycle?

  2. I liked this very much – am gearing up to attend a conference where I was beginning to create an us vs. them vibe with the ‘old guard fundamentalists’ – very liberating to simply see them (and myself) as necessary parts of a greater whole!

  3. This is amazing. I battle so much with my frustrations with things that are completely outside of my control. I abhor war and the constant war mongering that exists in the world and the propaganda of the mainstream media that justifies it.

    It is better for me to come to terms with this than try to fight the inevitability of the way things are and the way things have always been.

  4. I read and I believe I learn something.
    Then again, I am ignorant and don’t get all the big words.
    But I am happy to read and feel thankful.
    There is a big hole, I’m afraid to look.

    Thank you Genpo, much love.

    • Hi Doryu, that’s wonderful – there is a clear path! You can start looking into the fear of looking into the hole : ) … maybe sometime later, please share with us what is in that hole, I’m dead curious!

  5. Awesome article! I have always loved the concept of the triangle and the apex in the BigMind Process work. There is a parallel in this piece to my own work in investigating awakening. I think of two basic categories of concern, and areas of inquiry, in the process of stepping fully into what it is to be human. On the one hand is the realm of “how to be.” On the other is the realm of “what you are.” The first is a terribly broad and deep category. The second is incredibly narrow and specific.

    It is my opinion that in order to complete the training available in a human life, you need to address both of those realms, if not equally, then at least as close to that as is possible. In any given situation, holding both of those realms in conscious-awareness makes things better.

  6. This has really helped me get all the crazyness in the world into respective.

    I have been playing a massive game of white must win. Every time I hear of the neocons gearing up for war with Syria or Iran I wince. Every time I hear about the economy I wince.

    These things are outside of my control.

  7. Thank you.

    The most clear description of what individuals, the collective and humanity itself needs to get to if our species is to live on to the next phase of it’s evolution on this little bitty getting smaller planet of ours and, love as in, the act of accepting the interplay between darkness and light without judgment, might just be the medium and the way.

    Best Apex to you,

  8. Genpo Roshi continues the fine tradition of helping us get unstuck. It’s a wonderful thing to get unstuck.
    I know I’ll be stuck again real soon. Every time I get unstuck I have tears in my eyes while I’m laughing. It’s a great relief and feels like a burden has been lifted. It’s like all the voices inside me which are moderating each other continually have chilled out. It’s much easier now to just be in the moment.

  9. Hi Big Mind Roshi

    Thanks and no thanks for your in and out-sights. I like and dislike the word, equanimity – but I take no position on it. Except for this one:

    Standing on the door jam as an unidentified observer of existence and looking out – I am more receptive to higher levels of functioning and being.

    The more dichotomies the better – but maybe not. I don’t believe my mind.

    My best friend’s name is resistance. She let’s me do whatever I want. When I let go, my mind stops me and I get scraped and cut. So I just watch – it’s less painful.

    Fully Empty – Ken

  10. What a great way to clarify Big Mind! It is exactly what I have experienced. Thank you for putting it into another context to help clarify it again.

    • Of course this is not the end of the story. It is not the end of our developement. Lets forge ahead and see what is in the future for mankind. I am excited to expore more about the mind.

  11. “Using Dogen Zenji’s phrase, this is what I call true freedom, which transcends free and unfree, which is freedom in the midst of suffering. To realize this visionary perspective is one of the fruits of Zen practice, which engages all the gifts and potential of our humanity: self-reflection, honesty, humility, courage, openness, flexibility, tolerance, compassion. In this way Zen, particularly mature and healthy Zen using Zen reflection or meditation, the Big Mind process and other skillful means and tools, can and does provide some of the remedies for problems we are facing today on a worldwide scale.”

    Doesn’t engaging in the ‘good’ sides of ourselves not fly in the face of the whole point of the article? Who do we want to be tolerant of when we know it is a reflection of ourself? Who would be in need of your compassion? Not me I hope. All these should completely dissappear when this…. “It is the natural order of things that exist because of their position relative to their polar opposites” ……. is realized. We have no opposites, just different versions of ourselves.



Leave a Comment

Yes, I want to keep in touch...

I would like to receive news updates and blog posts from Big Mind.
(Address is optional; please include if you would like to be informed of events in your area.)

Thank you...

Thank you for your interest and request.
We will answer as soon as possible…

Thank you...

…for your signup to receive news updates!

You just need to imagine...

30% OFF