Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Signs of Zealotry?

Okay. Just to forewarn you, this post could easily be filed under "Dude, really? Just chill out!"

I have learned a great deal from Zen Buddhism, and I love how it's impacted my outlook and the way I respond to things. However, there's a thin line between zeal and zealotry.  While reading Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature (my current read), I questioned whether I was potentially showing signs of the latter.

sumi painting depicting nen
As usual (at least in my paperback books), as I read I was making notes in the margins. As I was reading a passage in chapter nine of Against Nature detailing the chaotic mood swings the main character, Des Esseintes, has within the illusionary world he has created for himself, I realized my notes were commenting on his state of mind by referencing the Zen concept of delusion. I was also thinking about him in terms of the famous sumi painting that reflects the concept of first, second, and third nen (see picture). Semi-translation: I was thinking about how Des Esseintes had backed so far away from direct perception of reality that he was lost entirely in delusion. Lost to the point of going a bit nuts.

It occurred to me this was not the first time I'd reacted to art, music, or literature from a Zen perspective. For example, one of the reasons I love Mark Rothko is because his paintings are like visually experiencing samadhi. My entry on Laura Nyro's song "Trees of the Ages" and my post on Zen Buddhism and Existentialism display the influence of Zen in my reactions to music and literature. I even asked myself: "Since there are schools of aesthetic criticism for feminists and socialists and objectivists, why not a school of Zen Buddhist literary or art criticism?"

That thought gave me pause. Do I really want my perceptions colored so deeply? Maybe I'm slowly turning into a 'born-again Zen Buddhist', someone who can't experience anything except through a narrow lens? In other words, was I becoming overzealous about things? As usual with thoughts like this that can't be answered in the moment you have them, I shrugged and pulled out my Scarlet O'Hara routine: 'I'll think about that tomorrow". Except I actually do think about it tomorrow! LOL!

Long story short, I think the definition of a zealot isn't that you let yourself be deeply influenced by something. A zealot is someone who is closed to abandoning what they believe in the light of evidence that it's wrong and, worse, who condemns anything that doesn't fit or agree with the truth they think they've found simply because it doesn't fit or agree. Since that's not what I'm doing, I'm okay.

That's a relief! Because I kinda like the idea of a school of Zen literary criticism!

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