|Copyright A. Barake, 2015, all rights reserved|
Zen can be an overloaded word. Even Robert Pirsig admits in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that he may not altogether be that accurate about Zen.
One of Zen's objectives is to reduce suffering. To do so via a philosophy or religion means to address suffering's causes, through strictures and practices. I would like to talk about how Zen addresses suffering that comes from within, since suffering from without can become a political topic.
Zen teaches that some thoughts and emotions can cause suffering. The practice of meditation can attenuate this source of suffering by training the mind to see such thoughts and emotions as fleeting, to minimize engagement with them, to see them "fly by", rather than to dwell on them.
This method of disengagement attempts to train the mind to detach from the emotional content of thoughts, in other words, to understand the thought, to perceive and process it, but not to let it cause suffering.
An example would be a reminiscence of an event that could be said to be humiliating, or sad, say a scolding, or a quarrel. The mind may, the morning after say, remember the circumstances and the words that were said, but through Zen meditation, these thoughts would stop short of emotion, they would be like reading an account of the event happening to someone else, or to oneself a long time ago. A distance is placed between the thoughts that may cause suffering and the mind's areas that feel emotions.
It is a willful and gentle lobotomy.
This is not to say that the event or memory does not register, or is not processed. This is not avoidance, this is detachment.
Zen serenity, interpreted in the light of this approach, is a form of emotional control. Another way to keep a stiff upper lip, without repression of emotion, since emotion is not allowed to be invoked.
It is a difficult concept, for me at least, since often my emotions can rise up spontaneously and fast. If meditation can help delay the rise, or at least slow it down through the feedback mechanism of "seeing them fly by", then possibly they can be "pre-processed" and attenuated before they cause suffering or bad actions to occur.
My closing comment on this topic is in relation to music. Music is almost by definition associated with an emotional response. One Zen retreat in my area recommends silence during one's stay, no music, little talk. I think this is because music can be a powerful emotional trigger or catalyst. But what about chanting?
This makes me think that there many kinds of music, since some chants and certain instrumental accompaniments are common in Buddhist temples since they promote a state of meditation, or even trance. Maybe the distinction to make is between song and music, and even within that categorization, between romantic and non-romantic music.
We can continue to categorize, but I think to no useful purpose. Music can invoke memory, and dealing with memory is what Zen meditation practice teaches. So music is OK if you can deal with it, and some music is easier to deal that other kinds. I think Bach is easier to handle during meditation that Ligetti, or the Stones, but that is just me.