zen - ernest becker
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DESCRIPTIONZen - Ernest Becker
ERNEST BECKER, Ph.D.The appealernerssionalsof
to a variety of
has been increasingly evident
and, to some, has
become a matter
concern. Zen typifies an Eastern approachto problem-solving thatis
at the opposite
pole from Western ideals: the
being, puppetlike, manipulates himself in
the hope of coercing his environment.
Steeped in a tradition of magical omnipotence, the Zennist seeks to bring other-
worldly power to bear on this-worldlyproblems.
the question "Does Zen hold forththis
something of value to the West?"
book makes an unremittingly negativeanswer. Zen, Dr. Becker remarks., hasthus far escaped unscathed from traditional
Western skepticism about irrational
antirational approaches to
understanding. In this book, he provides
clarification of perspec-
He gives a fresh view of Zen's origins(Continued on back flap)
3 1148 00019 1981
29^ B3952 61-2378J Becker Zen: a rational critique
Department of Psychiatry, State University ofUpstate Medical Center
W-W-NORTON & COMPANY, INC
1961 by Ernest BeckerFirst Edition
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 61-7474
Printed in the United States of Americafor the Publishers by the Vail-Ballou Press
Douglas G. Haringthe teacher imparts the
Zen to the West, 13
Psychotherapeutic Personality Change, 23Conversion, 43
The Zen Buddhist
Discipline as a Psychotherapeutic
Anthropological View, 102
Central Psychological Role of the Trance
in Zen, 119
Zen Cosmology and Zen Values, 133
The Thought ReformThe
Psychotherapeutic Meeting of East and
West, 1559Conclusion, 173Bibliographic Notes and References, 185
A society holds together by the respect which man gives toit fails
mind, the state of societyit falls
of a piece.
apart into groups of fearis false."
wrong things, though that should become credulous."
not merely that it should beis great enough; but that it
Zen to the West
A living man who sits and does not lie down; A dead man who lies down and does not sit!Afterall
these are just dirty skeletons.
The Westerner who finds some charm in Zen is oftenhard put to reconcile the antinomy, so foreign to his own traditions, between its poignantly esthetic musings about man and nature and its blatant denial of life. The purpose of this book is not to effect reconciliation, but rather to show that Zen really & S^SSSLS^life, abnegation of the Western ethic of individuation and autonomy which was ,sp Jaboripusly fashioned by Mediterfa"ilBM^iviIization and is still too precariously grasped. It is a trite observation that knowledge accumulates so quickly and voluminously that we are con-
stantly forced to rediscover something long known which has been quietly buried under the silt of more up-to-date thought or more pressing research. Yet this is what seems to have happened to Zen. The credulous new generations have to start again at the beginning and learn things all over; and with an ever new spirit
animating their strivings, it is inevitable that they should choose to delight themselves with the wrongthings.
Zen, Thought Reform, and Psychotherapy
course "wrong things"
a highly relative phrase;
traditions. Curiously, right and wrong depend on social this is the one area in which proponents of Zen to the West have been most remiss: they have without exception claimed that Zen is not only in harmony with Western tradition, but is in fact in essence more Western than the Western Greek and Christian-Judaic traditions themselves. This would be amusing if it were accepted only among a handful of gullible poets harmthe idea has inlessly dispersed in espresso shops. But fected some unimpeachable Western professionals, and
psychotherapists who possess a good deal over individuals. purpose here is neither power to make light of Oriental esthetics, nor to quench any
possible proselytizing by the Buddhist religion, but simply to look at Zen "in the round" in the hope thatif
we can be purged
magical achievements and impossible problems with a selfreliant adult realism. Those who turn to Zen expect it to grant the most impossible of all the things thatlife
omnipotence, we might view our imperfect
cannot give: a ready solution to the ponderous task and social adjustment and this withoutdenial ofis
the exercise of reason!-yllheas old
as old as
Buddhism's impotence to do something tanto aid gible suffering humanity judging by the cities and slums and rural misery of Asia. It has become soimportant for everyone to have a "personal belief" in our society, which is so mistrustful of "bad intentions,"thatto question content only in the case of Marxism. And even the idea that Marxism can actu-
as a religion in theit
to imply that one religion is better than any other, but simply that all religions do have a conceptual content;
and the nonbeliever
interested in certain facets of a
creative ends needs religion for esthetic or artistically for its eschatology of salvaalso to know the
Western psychotherapists however their professional understanding of the Zen negation of reason and understand it. logic is perverted, at least dotion.
In Buddhist thought, the world is a terrible place which one is reincarnated again and again through aeons of time, to form attachments to things and loved
ones and be separated remorselessly from them by an is not fundaimpersonal fate. The Buddhist protest eternal mentally against life. Life is not bad; it is thea
from desired objectr ^RaTTFTfie gainful separationis
entirely impersonal flux in,
which nothing really "exists" except attachment and desire. The Buddhist salvation is freedom from desire and hence from rebirth^he_Zen doctrine is that instantaneous freedom is achieved by uniting oneself with the eternal essence; liberation from the fetters of existence is possible in the here and now, not merelyat death or in in
some life to come. Nothingthis
able to this end.thing, in fact,
which must be effaced
in order for the
liberation to take place
Zen, Thought Reform, and Psychotherapyshall the very possibility of union with the cosmic. of this roots historical examine later the magical andidea.
r.The negation of mind in Buddhist thought is rather Westerners generally known, and undoubtedly many the West in it. of find Zen attractive because Manyrevolt
both against reason's obviously majestic crea-
tions for the
as well as
utter failure tocreativity.
solve problems of personal
fundamental to any
the negation of mind, method appraisal of it, is the
uses to proselytizel^Zen is basically a technique by to achieve a mental breakdown of people so that Its rethey can be made to accept a new ideology.
semblance here to Chinese thought reform can be conclusively demonstrated. Also not widely enough recognizedis
and reform are
that Zen's propensities for ideological conalso inherent in many forms of
a basic psychotherapy practiced in the Wqst. There is which identity in the coercive and regressive processes
Zen, thought reform, and various Western psychotherapies use to achieve reform or conversion goals,
system of belief may be offensive to some, but the Zennists themselves will be the most tranquil in a reappraisal of facts which have slipped from view, or remained in the special"scientific" dissection of a