Over the past 18 years of writing this blog I’ve occasionally mentioned my connection to Zen Buddhism. I am a Jew and like many Jews I saw an intellectual side to Zen that I found interesting.
I was a close friend of the Abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, Dick Baker. Founded by Shunryu Suzuki whose talks were incorporated into the most successful zen book Zen Mind Beginners Mind. Dick had a brilliant mind and our countless private talks and trips together won me to Zen.
I began sitting zazen in 1971 and sat daily from about 1976 until 2005. Except for most instances early on, including several sesshins, I sat alone and have been chided for that isolated behavior.
The intellectual power of zen and a parallel power in Tibetan Buddhism can not be ignored by bright curious people. The core teaching is simple but nearly impossible to grasp without teachers and great effort.
You can, or certainly I could, stop my mind completely after three days of being still. At that point you are able to live entirely in the unmediated present. You can also learn how to live in that ‘always present’ state of mind.
I later learned from a wonderful zen teacher who became a rabbi, Alan Lew, that many of the teachings of zen can be found in esoteric Judaism. And I use them.
Thank you Dick Baker and Alan Lew. I have used zen practice to be awake and alive, one of the greatest blessing a man can have.
I am also a social activist. From the beginning of my interest in zen, I always wondered, and even hoped, that practicing zen would have social benefits. That it would change people sufficiently to generate open minds.
My hopes were dashed with time and observation.
It doesn’t generate open minds among practitioners. I now know as I observe dozens of abbots and other teachers who have spent their lives as zen practitioners. Their minds and worldviews are frozen at the stage they were in when they started practice as late teenagers. Communist or Marxist when young and communist/marxist when old.
Summary: Zen Buddhism may be helpful for individuals. It has no social benefits in creating open minds among a large population. Sadly.