Sample D15 from Ernest Becker, Zen: A Rational Critique. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.,1961 Pp. 104-111 A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,016 words 246 (12.2%) quotesD15

Copyright Ernest Becker. Used by his permission. 0010-1870

Ernest Becker, Zen: A Rational Critique. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.,1961 Pp. 104-111

Header auto-generated for TEI version

Individuals possessing unusual gifts and great personal power were transmuted at death into awesome spirits ; ; they were almost immediately worshipped for these newer , even more terrible abilities . Their direct descendants inherited not only their worldly fortunes , but also the mandate of their newfound power as spirits in the other half of the universe . Royal lineages could be based on extraordinary worldly achievements translated into eternal otherworldly power .

Thus , the emperor could draw on sources not available to those with less puissant ancestors . But this eminence was not without its weighty responsibilities . Since he possessed more power in an interdependent universe of living beings and dead spirits , the emperor had to use it for the benefit of the living . The royal ritual generated power into the other world : it also provided the living with a way to control the spirits , and bring their powers directly to bear on the everyday affairs of the world . Proper ritual observance at any level of society was capable of generating power for use in the spirit world ; ; but naturally , the royal ritual , which provided unusual control over already supremely powerful divine spirits , was held responsible for regulating the universe and insuring the welfare of the kingdom .

This is the familiar system of `` cosmic government '' . The Chinese emperor , by proper observance of ritual , manifested divine powers . He regulated the dualities of light and darkness , Yang and Yin , which are locked in eternal struggle . By swaying the balance between them , he effected the alternation of the seasons . His power was so great that he even promoted and demoted gods according to whether they had given ear or been deaf to petitions .

In this system , no man is exempt from obligations . Failure in daily moral and ethical duties to one's family , outrages to community propriety , any departure from rigid standards of moral excellence were offenses against the dead . And to offend the dead meant to incur their wrath , and thus provoke the unleashing of countrywide disasters . The family home was , in fact , a temple ; ; and the daily duties of individuals were basically religious in nature . The dead spirits occupied a prominent place in every hope and in every fear .

The common belief was that there existed one moral order , which included everything . The dead controlled the material prosperity of the living , and the living adhered to strict codes of conduct in order not to weaken that control . Men believed they could control nature by obeying a moral code . If the moral code were flouted , the proper balance of the universe would be upset , and the disastrous result could be floods , plague , or famine .

Modern Westerners have difficulty comprehending this fusion of moral and material , largely because in the West the historical trend has been to deny the connection . Living in urban conditions , away from the deadweight of village constraint and the constrictions of a thatched-roof world view , the individual may find it possible , say , to commit adultery not only without personal misgivings , but also without suffering any adverse effects in his worldly fortunes . Basing action on the empirical determination of cause and effect provides a toughness and bravado that no powerful otherworldly ancestor could ever impart -- plus the added liberation from the constraint of silent burial urns .

In China , the magical system par excellence was Taoism . The Taoists were Quietist mystics , who saw an unchanging unity -- the Tao -- underlying all phenomena . It was this timeless unity that was all-important , and not its temporary manifestations in the world of reality . The Taoists believed the unity could be influenced by proper magical manipulation ; ; in other words , they were actually an organization of magicians .

Mahayana Buddhism was no exception to these prevailing magical concepts . After this form of Indian Buddhism had been introduced into China , it underwent extensive changes . During its flowering in the sixth to the eighth centuries , Mahayana offered a supernatural package to the Chinese which bears no resemblance to the highly digested philosophical Zen morsels offered to the modern Western reader . Mahayana had gods , and magic , a pantheon , heavens and hells , and gorgeously appareled priests , monks , and nuns , all of whom wielded power over souls in the other world . The self-realized Mahayana saint possessed superhuman powers and magic . The Mahayana that developed in the north was a religion of idolatry and coarse magic , that made the world into a huge magical garden . In its monastic form , Mahayana was merely an organization of magic-practicing monks ( bonzes ) , who catered to the Chinese faith in the supernatural .

Nonmagical Confucianism was a secular , rational philosophy , but even with this different orientation it could not escape from the ethos of a cosmic government . Confucianism had its own magic in the idea that virtue had power . If a man lived a classical life , he need not fear the spirits -- for only lack of virtue gave the spirits power over him . But let us not be mistaken about Confucian `` virtue '' ; ; this was not virtue as we understand the word today , and it did not mean an abandonment of the belief in magic manipulation . To the Confucian , `` virtue '' simply meant mastery and correct observance of three hundred major rules of ritual and three thousand minor ones . Propriety was synonymous with ritual observance , the mark of a true gentleman . To live correctly in an interdependent moral and material universe of living and dead was decisive for man's fate .

This , in brief , was the historical background out of which Zen emerged . Promoters of Zen to the West record its ancestry , and recognize that Zen grew out of a combination of Taoism and Indian Mahayana Buddhism . But the `` marvelous person '' that is supposed to result from Zen exhibits more Chinese practicality than Indian speculation -- he possesses magical powers , and can use them to order nature and to redeem souls . Proponents of Zen to the West emphasize disproportionately the amount of Mahayana Buddhism in Zen , probably in order to dignify the indisputably magical Taoist ideas with more respectable Buddhist metaphysic . But in the Chinese mind , there was little difference between the two -- the bonzes were no more metaphysical than a magician has to be .

Actually , Zen owes more to Chinese Quietism than it does to Mahayana Buddhism . The Ch'an ( Zen ) sect may have derived its metaphysic from Mahayana , but its psychology was pure early Taoist . This is well evidenced by the Quietist doctrines carried over in Zen : the idea of the inward turning of thought , the enjoinder to put aside desires and perturbations so that a return to purity , peace , and stillness -- a union with the Infinite , with the Tao -- could be effected . In fact , the antipathy to outward ceremonies hailed by modern exponents as so uniquely characteristic of the `` direct thinking '' Zennist was a feature of Taoism . So , too , was the insistence on the relativity of the external world , and the ideas that language and things perceived by consciousness were poor substitutes indeed for immediate perception by pure , indwelling spirit : the opposition of pure consciousness to ratiocinating consciousness .

Zen maintains that cognitive things are only the surface of experience . One of its features attractive to the West is its irreverence for tradition and dogma and for sacred texts . One patriarch is supposed to have relegated sacred scriptures for use in an outhouse . But this is not the spirit of self-reliant freedom of action for which the Westerner mistakes it . It is simply that in Taoist tradition -- as in all good mysticisms -- books , words , or any other manifestations that belong to the normal state of consciousness are considered only the surface of experience . The truth -- the Eternal Truth -- is not transmittable by words . Reality is considered not only irrelevant to the acquisition of higher knowledge , but a positive handicap . The technique of reality confusion -- the use of paradox and riddles to shake the mind's grip on reality -- originated with fourth and third century B.C. Chinese Quietism : the koan is not basically a new device .

It is important for an understanding of Zen to realize that the esoteric preoccupations of the select few cannot be the doctrine of the common man . In the supernatural atmosphere of cosmic government , only the ruling elite was ever concerned with a kingdom-wide ordering of nature : popular religion aimed at more personal benefits from magical powers . And this is only natural -- witness the haste with which modern man gobbles the latest `` wonder drug '' . Early Chinese anchoritism was theoretically aimed at a mystic pantheist union with the divine , personal salvation being achieved when the mystical recluse united with divine essence . But this esoteric doctrine was lost in the shuffle to acquire special powers . The anchorite strove , in fact , to magically influence the world of spirits in the same way that the divine emperor manifested his power . Thus , the Mahayana metaphysic of mystical union for salvation was distilled down to a bare self-seeking , and for this reason , the mystic in Asia did not long remain in isolated contemplation . As the Zen literature reveals , as soon as an early Zen master attained fame in seclusion , he was called out into the world to exercise his powers . The early Anchorite masters attracted disciples because of their presumed ability to perform miracles .

Exponents of Zen often insist that very early Zen doctrine opposed the rampant supernaturalism of China , and proposed instead a more mature , less credulous view of the universe . In support of this , stories from the early literature are cited to show that Zen attacks the idea of supernatural power . But actually these accounts reveal the supernatural powers that the masters were in fact supposed to possess , as well as the extreme degree of popular credulity : `` Hwang Pah ( O Baku ) , one day going up Mount Tien Tai which was believed to have been inhabited by Arhats with supernatural powers , met with a monk whose eyes emitted strange light . They went along the pass talking with each other for a short while until they came to a river roaring with torrent . There being no bridge , the master had to stop at the shore ; ; but his companion crossed the river walking on the water and beckoned to Hwang Pah to follow him . Thereupon Hwang Pah said : `` If I knew thou art an Arhat , I would have doubled you up before thou got over there '' ! ! The monk then understood the spiritual attainment of Hwang Pah , and praised him as a true Mahayanist . ( 1 ) ''

A second tale shows still more clearly the kind of powers a truly spiritual monk could possess : `` On one occasion Yang Shan ( Kyo-zan ) saw a stranger monk flying through the air . When that monk came down and approached him with a respectful salutation , he asked : `` Where art thou from '' ? ? `` Early this morning '' , replied the other , `` I set out from India '' . `` Why '' , said the teacher , `` art thou so late '' ? ? `` I stopped '' , responded the man , `` several times to look at beautiful sceneries '' . `` Thou mayst have supernatural powers '' , exclaimed Yang Shan , `` yet thou must give back the Spirit of Buddha to me '' . Then the monk praised Yang Shan saying : `` I have come over to China in order to worship Manjucri , and met unexpectedly with Minor Shakya '' , and after giving the master some palm leaves he brought from India , went back through the air . ( 2 ) ''

In the popular Chinese mind , Ch'an ( Zen ) was no exception to the ideas of coarse magic that dominated .

A closer look at modern Zen reveals many magical carryovers that are still part of popular Zen attitudes . To the Zen monk the universe is still populated with `` spiritual beings '' who have to be appeased . Part of the mealtime ritual in the Zendo consists in offerings of rice to the spiritual beings '' . Modern Zen presentation to the West insists on the anti-authoritarian , highly pragmatic nature of the Zen belief -- scriptures are burned to make fire , action is based on direct self-confidence , and so on . This picture of extreme self-reliant individuation is difficult to reconcile with such Zendo formulas as : `` O you , demons and other spiritual beings , I now offer this to you , and may this food fill up the ten quarters of the world and all the demons and other spiritual beings be fed therewith . ( 3 )