Question: 'Many Americans seem to think of the characters in Zen stories as being individualistic, 'cool' guys with lots of 'attitude.' Is this accurate?'
It is a truism that we see what we are looking for. There are a number of areas in which Zen looks familiar and attractive to Americans, which is why Zen lore has been able to enter our popular culture so easily. Bodhidharma walks out of the 'West' into China and seems to resemble some lone gunman entering a dusty cattle town. He is brought before the Emperor, who proceeds to tell him about all the temples he has built and good works he has done. The Emperor then asks how much merit he has earned for these activities and Bodhidharma says 'No merit.' The familiar pennywhistle sounds in our mental soundtrack and we seem to be watching A Fistful of Dharmas. The mondo, or dharma combats, that make up so many of the koans and Zen stories are full of characters who seem to us very quick on the verbal draw, unpredictable, and even violent.
We need a little bit of historical perspective.
Zen Buddhist websites, news, and discussion
Tuesday, July 12, 2005
Another good Zen FAQ: