Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | June 21, 2009

Mystics and Zen Masters


I was rereading some of Thomas Merton’s Mystics and Zen Masters while doing several loads of laundry(an existential type of work anyway), and it certainly was food for thought. I jumped in where the old bookmark was, which was toward the end, and he was speaking of existential philospophy, and how it should not be interpreted as a nihilistic, negative approach to life, but rather a recognition of the alienating and isolating way of collective conformism, a way which strips people of their individual humanity, that is, as he calles it, a “leveling” of humanity, so that the authentic self, the true self, that true self sought after, say, in buddhism, the personalism of a Dorothy Day, is leveled away and there is no self anymore, just a piece of the collective society, encouaged to behave in a way, to conform to ideal typographies of “heroes” and “idols,”, and on and on.

Let me say that I do want to become a mystic and zen master when I grow up. But even more of a priority for me, and I would like to say this has grown out of my tai chi practice, but the truth is the tai chi practice has only affirmed what I’ve known about myself from a young age, more of a priority is the freedom to be truly an individual, a person, to be me, albeit within community, but me. Whatever matrix we find ourselves in, whether it be in Catholicism, taoism, buddhism, totalitarianism, fascism, the primacy of the individual and the nurturing of that person, the growth and development of that person to be wholly them, that’s the thing.

The corporate world, advertising, propoganda, social mores, all look to destroy individualism and make people conform to a way, usually a way that is delusional and illusory. And this is just the perspective within an industrialized, technologically advanced society. The collective grip in other countries is it’s own set of issues. We may deal with subtle, hidden ways of fascism and totalitarian oppression, but some peoples live under it blatantly every day, and often face violence and death if they stand against it. Here, we face a lot of harrassment, and then maybe death if we step outside the norm and make a stink about it to boot.

I do want to say that it is a complex issue, simply from the fact that there are so many people in the world. How do you in fact create a social construct that gives everyone the opportunity to be educated, to work, to make a living, to have a home and food and clothing? It’s easy to point out the negatives of any framework, and let’s face it, a certain amount of conformity and following of rules and leveling off is necessary for the good of and the proper workings of a society. But there should always be a compatible way of allowing a person to have dignity and respect, to be an individual, a person. Even in the monastic life, a monk sacrifices much of the self to become, lets say, a monk in christ. But he is always brother so and so or sister what’s her name. The individual person remains important.

It should be simpler. People want coffee, for example, a company opens a store that sells coffee, people buy the coffee at the store. But it become co-opted. The company begins making all kinds of coffee and then proceeds to “educate” the consumer about what they really want. It is a manipulation that takes us down the slippery slope, and it happens in all facets of society. In any type of team affair, there has to be a sacrificing of some of a person’s individuality. In an orchestra, not everyone is the soloist or featured artist. Sometimes the oboe player needs to be just the oboe player. But the oboe player should never be stripped of his personal worth. He should always be joe the oboe player.

One other important concept I’d like to touch upon, which is sort of related to the topic, but, how do we get our information, how do we get our revelation, how do we achieve enlightenment and begin to understand who we really are? I think the answer lies primarily in ourselves. We must look deep inside ourselves, in our hearts. It is somewhat cliched to say it, to use the terminology, but we should listen to what our hearts are saying. We must look deeply into our oen consciousness, and our own conscience. It is our consciousness which has, as it’s source, the consciousness of the ineffable. It’s there for us to listen to, to study, and to accept.

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