Zen? Atheist? Is there such an animal?

From: Dan Adams (danadams@yahoo.com)
Date: Wed May 31 2000 - 05:08:15 MDT

--- Terry Donaghe <Terry@Donaghe.com> wrote:
> Howdy,
> I just read an email from you on the Extropian
> mailing list about Mother
> Teresa. You said that you're a Zen Budhist and a
> staunch athiest?? Those
> two aren't contradictory? I admit that I know much
> of nothing about Zen
> Budhism. Can you give me a bit of enlightenment?
> Thanks!

Hi Terry!

And, in answer to your question : It would be my
honor, Boddhisattva! You must forgive the brevity of
this response as I am a college student who is
currently (i.e. at this moment) working on overdue
projects in physics and philosophy for school ;-)
Zen Buddhism and atheism are not inherently
contradictory. In fact, in purest form, the latter is
an essential (read "denotational") characteristic of
the former. Perhaps because Western religion is
staunchly theological in not only its metaphysic, but
in its ethic, we assume this to be a universal trait
of spiritual life. [note also the various shades and
nuances of the terms "religious" and "spiritual" -
which means what?] This, however, does not have to be
true. While I will grant (and, indeed, it is
*essential* to note) that all spiritual traditions
contain a mystical/supernatural component in an least
some of their cultural incarnations, we must notice
and acknowledge that this is an adaptive feature of
the meme construct in which they are incarnated - not
necessarily a rudimentary feature of the "spirituality
algorithm" itself [author's note : to all of you who
want to smack me for my poor choice of terminology *as
you see it* (and, I know you do because it's driving
me crazy!), I beg you to chalk the inadequacy up to a
"Sapir-Whorfesque linguistic indeterminacy" and not to
the intellectual failings of a poor, budding academic
who gives so heroically of his sparse time to maintain
a relevant voice among the philosophical kin he loves
so much ;-].
What I mean by that (i.e. everything before my little
note) is that some religions (and, I use that term
quite intentionally here) more fruitfully avail
themselves of the ability to detach their philosophy
from their theology. This process is least painful to
those religions whose theology has not been
systematically, ritually dogmatized by lineages of
self-aggrandizing social climbers...(and, before we
all start snickering at my little pot-shot at
Christianity, let's realize that it has a frightening
latitude of applicability!). Those religions (or,
more accurately, minority segments of religious
tradtion) which have avoided, through various
mechanisms, the friendly embrace of social sanction
(which ultimately becomes the death grip of dogmatism)
have unwittingly immunized themselves to a broad and
virulent class of theo-ethical memes. Thus, while
their compatriots lay wounded on the battlefield of
skeptical insight (perhaps having sustained a direct
hit from the endless volley of merciless logic), those
religious systems whose *command* (i.e.
epistemological) structure is unencumbered by the dead
weight of supernatural speculation retreat unscathed.
Thus enter Zen. Though it could be argued that all
Buddhism is either : 1) inherently atheistic (hard
stance) or 2) culturally/ethically sustainable outside
of mystical tradition (soft stance), it is far more
interesting to study the Mahayana->Chan->Zen religious
lineage and its legendary rejection of dogma/theology
as, if not untrue, at least peripheral to the key
spiritual experience. [note : this is one of the rare
occasions when my unparalleled skill for metaphorical
philandering, solipsistic rhetoric, and shameless
pedantry does not do justice to the profound
significance of the insight which it describes.]
Thus, Zen becomes the ideal ethical/spiritual system
(which, referring back to the earlier statement, is
the definition I choose for a "religion" : "a
coherent, stable/sustainable structure of
ethical/spiritual principles with both suggestive and
predictive power."

Where's the god?? Hello? Oh well...Zen, meet
atheism. Atheism, Zen.

Best wishes from my "Zen wrapped bubble of cosmic
orgasm" (Pelletier, 2000),

Dan Adams
Boston College

"I cannot articulate enough to express my dislike to people who think that understanding spoils your experience...How would they know?"
   - Marvin Minsky

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