Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Susan Blackmore - Falling into Zen

An interesting post from Susan Blackmore at the Psychology Today blogs.

Falling into Zen

I've been a scientist, struggling to understand the mysteries of consciousness, near-death experiences and altered states, most of my life. Alongside my science I have also explored many alternative world views from witchcraft to spiritualism and Theosophy to chakras, but in spite of their superficial appeal they all proved deeply unsatisfactory. They provided answers all right, but the answers were dogmatic and confusing; they didn't fit with science, and neither did they lead to any new discoveries. Worst of all, their doctrines did not change in response to change, but remained rigidly dependent on ancient books or the claims of their proponents. That is, until I stumbled across Zen. I was encouraged to have "great doubt", told to "Investigate!", and taught how to do it.

Zen is a branch of Buddhism that began as "Chan" in seventh century China and later spread east to become known as Zen in Japan. Although based in the teachings and insights of the historical Buddha, Zen puts far less emphasis on theory and studying texts than do other branches of Buddhism, and far more on practising meditation to gain direct experience of one's true nature. This may be why, from its appearance in the West in the late nineteenth century, Zen has appealed to academics, philosophers and other thinkers who enjoy its strange paradoxes and who don't want to be involved in religious practices or dogmatic beliefs.

Like science, Zen demands that you ask questions, apply disciplined methods of inquiry, and overthrow any ideas that don't fit with what you find out. Indeed Zen is just like science in being more a set of techniques than a body of dogma. Zen has its doctrines and science its theories but in both cases these are temporary attempts to understand the universe, pending deeper inquiry and further discovery. Zen does not demand that you believe anything or have blind faith, but that you work hard to find out for yourself.

I am not a Buddhist. I have not joined any Buddhist orders, adopted any religious beliefs, nor taken any formal vows. I say this now because I do not want anyone to think I am writing under false pretences. Nothing I say here should be taken as the words of a Zen Buddhist. Rather, I am someone with a questioning mind who has stumbled upon Zen and found it immensely helpful. It has pushed me further and further into the kind of questions I have always asked - including the ones I have chosen to tackle in my book Ten Zen Questions. They are the sort of questions which concern the very mind that is asking the question.

Read the rest of the post.

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