zen - ernest becker

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Zen - Ernest Becker

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ZEN:aBy

ERNEST BECKER, Ph.D.The appealernerssionalsof

Zen

to a variety of

West-

both

dilettantes

and

profes-

has been increasingly evident

and, to some, has

become a matter

of

concern. Zen typifies an Eastern approachto problem-solving thatis

at the opposite

pole from Western ideals: the

human

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.

To

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

and

antirational approaches to

human

understanding. In this book, he provides

a

much needed

clarification of perspec-

tive.

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

Zen:ARational Critique

DATEOCT

f

Zen:ARational Critique

By

ERNEST BECKER,

Ph.D.New YorL

Department of Psychiatry, State University ofUpstate Medical Center

W-W-NORTON & COMPANY, INC

.

New York

Copyright

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

123456789

To

Douglas G. Haringthe teacher imparts the

",

.

.

spirit."

6123783

CONTENTS

Introduction:

The Appeal

of

Zen to the West, 13

1

The

Psychotherapeutic Personality Change, 23Conversion, 43

2

The Zen Buddhist

3

The Zen

Discipline as a Psychotherapeutic

Process, 87

4

The

Historical

Background

of Zen:

An5

Anthropological View, 102

The

Central Psychological Role of the Trance

in Zen, 119

6

Zen Cosmology and Zen Values, 133

7

The Thought ReformThe

Rebirth, 143

8

Psychotherapeutic Meeting of East and

West, 1559Conclusion, 173Bibliographic Notes and References, 185

Index, 190

"Theman;

state of

A society holds together by the respect which man gives toit fails

mind, the state of societyit falls

is

of a piece.

.

.

,

in fact,its

apart into groups of fearis false."

and

power,

when

concept of

man

J.

BRONOWSKI

"The dangerlieve

to society

is

wrong things, though that should become credulous."

not merely that it should beis great enough; but that it

W.K.CLIFFORD

Zen:

A

Rational Critique

INTRODUCTION

The Appeal

of

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.

13

Zen, Thought Reform, and Psychotherapy

Of

course "wrong things"

is

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

among themQf

psychotherapists who possess a good deal over individuals. purpose here is neither power to make light of Oriental esthetics, nor to quench any

My

possible proselytizing by the Buddhist religion, but simply to look at Zen "in the round" in the hope thatif

we can be purged

of childish

dependence upon

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

of personal

cannot give: a ready solution to the ponderous task and social adjustment and this withoutdenial ofis

the exercise of reason!-yllheas old

mind

is

as old as

Buddhism; at

least

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-

we seem

14

The Appealally

of

Zen

to the

West

be accepted

as a religion in theit

underdevelopedat all

countries absolves

of

some

evil. I

do not

mean

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

premises

Western psychotherapists however their professional understanding of the Zen negation of reason and understand it. logic is perverted, at least dotion.

into

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

an

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

is

importanttfie

Zen except

tsafil^^

able to this end.thing, in fact,

Most expendable

of

all

one

which must be effaced

in order for the

Zen

liberation to take place

i^hgjitt^*

mind tojhou^^^

^^

rom15

Zen, Thought Reform, and Psychotherapyshall the very possibility of union with the cosmic. of this roots historical examine later the magical andidea.

We

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

good

life,

as well as

its

utter failure tocreativity.

solve problems of personal

contentment and

But

less

well

known than

fundamental to any

the negation of mind, method appraisal of it, is the

and Zen

which

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

version

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

A

provin