It is undoubtedly quite difficult for the western mind to even begin to comprehend
the Zen. And yet there is a philosophical economy here. It becomes clear in
Schloegl's portrayal of Master Huyakujo (p 11) with the emphasis described
on manual labor as one of the 'training devices' of the Masters.
While that immediately brings to mind the frightening character of Maoism
especially during the Cultural Revolution of the middle sixties, on which
research scientists were turned out to the fields to grow rice, the enlightened
guide might well smile at western ingenuity in constructing such a clever
but illusory conceptualization or argument.
But that is really not the point. They took Huyakujo's tools (p 11) out of fear
for his health from the labor he engaged in during has advanced years and he
got them returned by refusing to eat when he could not work to grow his own
food: "a day without work is a day without food."
The issue is the question as to what is work and, more precisely, which work
is the 'best' work. Zen might well question any definition of 'best' as the most
productive because that 'reeks' with western notions of value placed on things
which are really mere illusion.
And yet, the problem may be that the master does not understand the western
mind. Schloegl has commented that Zen recognizes the importance of all
knowledge on the fact that human fulfillment is vital since it is only in the
human state that enlightenment may be achievable.
What may be lost or overlooked is the reality of human existence at the
beginning of the 21st century. There are about six billion people on earth,
perhaps half of whom subsist marginally. Given that reality, 'best' can be
identified as that which contributes the most to the human condition and
The matter from there could become complicated in contention, but the point
is simply that what enhances productivity improves the human condition removing
the margin and enabling more people the 'luxury' of seeking enlightenment,
something they have little chance or hope of doing when they live at subsistence
levels. Capitalism may be the Tao!
But capitalism is not about want or greed, which is inevitably likely to be a response
to such a statement. It is about wealth creation which enhances productivity.
It engenders the 'best' work. When the monks took Huyakujo's tools, what they
perhaps should have done was to have given him a lap-top.
They would need to recognize the futility of their desire to be self-supporting, but
then, no Buddhist monk should have a problem quelching desire, right? Yet, were
we to abide Huyakujo's desires, the world could not long support its population
at the level it can currently, or for that matter, even a part of it.
Schloegl at points seems trapped in her desire to reject western culture, values,
and influences as barriers to enlightenment. For instance, it is difficult to understand
how she could miss (p 19-20) that the human heart would not lose any 'uplift' by
sitting down at family dinner, as she suggests. Indeed, what greater 'fountain of love'
might there be? But here, again, Buddhism may be susceptible to the critique
I mentioned in commenting on the Gita. 'Giving up' the illusion of things will bring
us toward enlightenment, if we do not starve on the way. Buddhism may be an
opiate of the masses, as Marx suggested of all religion. It may be seen as a way to
get people to put up with suffering and anticipate a better existence in another
world or existence.
In Schloegl, it is even more direct. Not unlike the monk who objected to his fellow
for having carried a young woman across the river, it may be that she still has not
put down her burden of guilt (p 39). This may be seen for example in the choices
or selections to be read in the book which offer condemnation of 'profit' (the fuel
of that 'best' work mentioned above). But the same contempt of profit is echoed
in the very next story (p 66) about Emperor Kiso's ships, and elsewhere.
I am probably missing something, but I do not know what it is. But why spend forty
years learning to walk on the water when you can take the ferry for a nickel? But
Schloegl does not seem very fond of 'progress:'
"We have tried to better the world, and ourselves, for millennia,
and though we have seemingly succeeded in some things,
in others we are worse off than ever. Every short-term improvement
inevitably throws up its opposite which trips us up." (22)
It may be that Schloegl is just too intent on trying to force the round peg
of Zen into the square New Age hole.