Zen vs. Oblivion

Mt. Lukens - trees in fog - April 2011

Mt. Lukens - trees in fog - April 2011

I recently read someone describe himself as “an Ultra runner trying for Zen oblivion.”

There seems to be this common misconception about Buddhist meditation as escapism – that it will somehow carry you away as if you were on some sort of cosmic high – completely apart from and oblivious to the world around you. That’s completely backwards.

Meditation, and Buddhism, is not intended to be some sort of cheap vacation from reality, like being on dope or watching TV. Rather than an escape from the here-and-now, it is an immersion into it.

Oblivion is defined as “The state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening.”

Buddhism seeks the opposite.

Shinzen Young, (who is basically my “grandteacher”, or my old teacher’s teacher), summarizes it below by quoting Hsiao Chih-Kuan by Master Tien-T’ai, from 6th Century China:

“There are many paths for entering the reality of Nirvana, but in essence they are all contained with two practices: stopping and seeing.

Stopping is the primary gate for overcoming the bonds of compulsiveness. Seeing is the essential requisite for ending confusion.

Stopping is the wholesome resource that nurtures the mind. Seeing is the marvelous art which fosters intuitive understanding.

Stopping is the effective cause of attaining concentrative repose. Seeing is the very basis of enlightened wisdom.

A person who attains both concentration and wisdom has all the requisites for self-help and for helping others… It should be known, then, that these two techniques are like the two wheels of a chariot, the two wings of a bird. If their practice is lopsided, you will fall from the path. Therefore, the sutra says: To one-sidedly cultivate the merits of concentrative repose without practicing understanding is called dullness. To one-sidedly cultivate knowledge without practicing repose is called being crazed. Dullness and craziness, although they are somewhat different, are the same in that they both perpetuate an unwholesome perspective.”

The great irony here is that this “Zen Oblivion” is being sought by someone who depicts himself as the great barefoot runner, and talks frequently about things like being at one with the trails, running shirtless, & feeling the ground beneath his feet, all sentiments completely at odds with an escapist fantasy of “zen oblivion” and completely in tune with the intention of buddhist awareness, or stopping and seeing and being attentive to (and in acceptance of) reality, especially on an immediate level.

The Shinzen Young article can be found in an article called How Meditation Works.

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