We Must Not Become Statues

On September 11, 1955, ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima, D. T. Suzuki— one of the most influential figures in introducing Zen Buddhism to the West—gave a keynote address at the unveiling ceremony of the statue of Shinran Shonin, a Japanese Buddhist monk who survived the bombing of Hiroshima and founded Jodo Shinshu (Shin) Buddhism:

The present state of things as we are facing everywhere politically, economically, morally, intellectually, and spiritually is no doubt the result of our past thoughts and deeds we have committed as human beings through[out] the whole length of history, through aeons of existence, not only individually but collectively—let me repeat, collectively. As such, we are, every one of us, responsible for the present world situation filled with [its] awesome forebodings. The bombing of Hiroshima was not, after all, the doing of the American armies, but the doing of mankind as a whole, and as such, we, not only the Japanese and Americans but the whole world, are to be held responsible for the wholesale slaughter witnessed ten years ago….


As far as I can see, [we must find] the living Shonin who is surely among us answering to the call of his name; only we have not been able to hear his response, our ears have not yet been fully opened innerly as well as outwardly to [that] still small voice….

We must realize that modern civilization is thoroughly oriented towards dehumanizing humanity in every possible way; that is to say, we are fast turning into robots or statues with no human souls. Our task is to get humanized once more.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

And to this I will add my own, perhaps flawed interpretation.

Initially, I wanted to learn meditation precisely in order to become a statue, a Buddha statue, if you like. A solid lump that does not think or feel, or become excited or disturbed by anything. I used meditation as a sedative, to keep me calm and quiet the constant disturbance of my mind. And that worked for a while.

But then as meditation progressed, I began to notice something. Meditation became really boring, and that’s what Chogyam Trungpa said would happen, so I accepted that as the cost of sedation. But then, the world around me became incredibly interesting. I was tuned into everything with more intensity and precision. The world of direct experience became really alive for me.

So now, this is why I sit: to become more intensely human, to magnify the human experience:

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I crave experience. I lust for intensity. I am desire personified. I am addicted to everything. Every pore in my skin is itching and tingling. Every nerve cell in my body is vibrating. Every synapse and dendrite in my brain is shooting lasers in every direction, grasping at every possible stimulation. I don’t sit for the peace and serenity of perfect meditation. No, I crave the violent onslaught of direct experience.

And today I sit, not to numb the experience of being human, but to feel every stab of gut-wrenching passion, jealousy, rage, grief and loss and longing; to see every delusion projected in full technicolor and mercilessly torn to shreds. This is why I sit. [1]

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

We must not also use meditation to isolate and medicate ourselves as an escape from our collective suffering. Instead, w can engage in meditation as a way to intensify our sensitivity to the human experience, and to gain the wisdom needed to relieve suffering wherever we can.

[1] This little poetic sketch might also be the result of intense study of the Five Skandhas in the Nalandabodhi Hinayana class. Studying the Five Skandhas has the effect of switching on every sense perception to maximum sensitivity.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

And of course Chogya Trungpa said it better than I could, that the reason we don’t have an intense experience of the immediate is because it is always underlaid with some self-centred judgment about “this works for me” or “this doesn’t work for me,” i.e. my ego or sense of security in the world.

“People are usually very nervous about fully experiencing the bright and colorful world. Nobody can see this level of relative truth without having cut through all the aspects of ego, because there is still a little attachment. People may see blue as blue, but at the same time, they use that to reinforce their idea of how blue affects their state of mind. Whether they regard things as powerful, good, nice, or threatening, there are always psychological implications behind the colors, forms, noises, and physical sensations they perceive. There is always some implication behind the whole thing. So the relative truth, is very difficult to experience fully, although it is very ordinary.”

“Realizing the Emptiness of Ordinary Reality” in The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion by Chögyam Trungpa, page 155


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