Mon Mar 5 10:58:44 EST 2012

Zen: The Wisdom of the East: A New Way of Life

I can't find this book anywhere online, but I found it thought-provoking and will write a few words regardless. Zen is one of those things where I see its praises sung but the more I try to read about it, the less I understand.

One of the main themes seems to be the idea of releasing attachments. Not just material possessions, but ideas and paradigms of thought as well. I've been thinking along those lines since I listened to Walden, but mainly in terms of possessions. Being detached from things means there's no loss to be suffered when something is damaged or destroyed. Being detached from ideas prevents one from being stuck defending an untenable position. But being detached from everything means there's nothing to fight for, and that's a position I cannot accept.

It seems that this detachment is part of the preparation for enlightenment and although the preparation may be long and difficult, the enlightenment itself is instantaneous. A concrete description of the actual state and implications of enlightenment is missing (and probably considered to be indescribable), but the book spends a lot of time talking about "Cosmic Mind" and other poorly-defined concepts.

Another idea that has shown up in a few texts I have read is the need for mindfulness and paying attention to the present. I let my mind wander far too easily, and it is very satisfying when you notice something other people have missed because you've given your surrounds full attention. Again, I find the position of the book too extreme: if you only pay attention to the present, you are stuck reacting as things happen to you. When planning, give the plan full attention. When executing a plan or working in the present, give that your full attention. Joel Spolsky's remarks on Human Context Switching are particularly appropriate here, though he talks about task switches at a project or organisation level as opposed to an individual's thoughts.

I can't recommend something I haven't completely understood, but at least the book clarified some of my ideas and positions.


Posted by Jack Kelly | Permanent link | File under: readings