Day 26 – Z: Zen and Knowledge

I have always been interested in Zen philosophy. It is fascinating to note how Zen interprets knowledge and more specifically experiential knowledge and theoretical / intellectual knowledge. Following is an excerpt on ‘The Meaning of the Term Zen’ from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The designation of this school of the Buddha-Way as Zen, which means sitting meditation, is derived from a transliteration of the Chinese word Chán. Because the Chinese term is in turn a transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyāna, however, Zen owes its historical origin to early Indian Buddhism, where a deepened state of meditation, called samādhi, was singled out as one of the three components of study a Buddhist was required to master, the other two being an observation of ethical precepts (sīla) and an embodiment of nondiscriminatory wisdom (prajñā). The reason that meditation was singled out for the designation of this school is based on the fact that the historical Buddha achieved enlightenment (nirvāna) through the practice of meditation. In the context of Zen Buddhism, perfection of nondiscriminatory wisdom (Jpn., hannya haramitsu; Skrt., prajñāpāramitā) designates practical, experiential knowledge, and secondarily and only derivatively theoretical, intellectual knowledge. This is, Zen explains, because theoretical knowledge is a form of “language game” (Jpn.; keron; Skrt., prapañca), i.e., discrimination through the use of language, as it is built in part on distinction-making. Zen believes that it ultimately carries no existential meaning for emancipating a human being from his or her predicaments, for it maintains that discriminatory knowledge of any kind is delusory/illusory in nature. To this effect it holds that it is through a practical transformation of the psychophysiological constitution of one’s being that one prepares for embodying nondiscriminatory wisdom. This preparation involves the training of the whole person and is called “self-cultivation” (shugyō) in Japanese. It is a practical method of correcting the modality of one’s mind by correcting the modality of one’s body, in which practice (prāxis) is given precedence over theory (theōria). (Yuasa, 1987.)

And to end the AtoZ Blog Challenge, I wanted to share a Zen proverb / saying. Here it goes:

Ch’uan Teng Lu: “Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”

It was fun writing the posts. Thanks again everyone for visiting my blog during the last month. Special thanks to those who took the trouble to hit the ‘like’ button and posted their valuable comments. It is sincerely appreciated.

I wish I could have extracted a bit more time to read more posts posted by the other participants. But there is always the next time! Till then, Sayonara to all participants and readers of AtoZ Blog Challenge.

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