@ THE INTERSECTION OF ZEN & SCIENCE
Matsuoka Roshi would often declare Zen has no conflict with the findings of science, which is one of the marks that distinguishes it from certain religions. However, the larger category, or philosophy, of rationalism, of which science is a member in good standing, may propose some hypotheses with which Zen would find reason to disagree. In a manuscript I am preparing for publication one day, I set Zen against the opposing fields of Rationalism and Theism for purposes of contrast, and clarifying differences with Zen, as I understand it, in particular.
By the time this MS is published, if ever, the above comparison chart will probably undergo some modification, but it will serve our purposes here. Setting aside for now any discussion of Theism, or religion writ large, let us focus on the eight Dimensions between Rationalism and Zen. One caveat: I am not, and do not pretend to be, an expert or authority on Rationalism or Theism, but owing to my practice-experience in Zen, can speak with some confidence as to the importance of the dimensions attributed, and how and where Zen differs.
THE QUESTION ASKED
The first dimension I feel important to examine is the question that each Field attempts to address. Generally, philosophies and religions tend to seek answers to the great Why questions: Why do we (and the Universe) exist? Why me, Lord? etc. But some wag insisted that in Zen, we do not try to answer the Why questions.
The questions that Science in particular, and Rationality in general, approach are more in the How category: How do things work? How did things get to be the way they are? How can we accurately predict future behavior (of things in the physical realm, of people in the “soft” sciences). Though sometimes these are explained as Why answers, which is just an example of imprecision of language, or semantics.
I contend that Zen does not place its emphasis on either the Why or the How, other than in very general terms, such as how to practice zazen, and why we prefer it to the other meditations on offer. Rather, Zen focuses on the What: What is this so-called reality? What are we (not Who, which presupposes a personal entity)? And above all, What to do about it? Zen is a school of action. The greatest action we can take, in the face of the unknowable, according to Soto Zen, is zazen.
In this, Zen is more scientific than religious, coming down on the side of Rationalism, and certainly not promoting a “Who” answer to the ultimate conundrum of existence, as does Theism. The What question was raised by Huineng when first meeting his ultimate successor: “What is it that thus comes?”
Our attitude in zazen is more What than Why, or even How, once we are past the newcomer instruction stage, which deals with the practicalities of How to do Zen. What is it that we are doing, actually? What are we facing in zazen? and What does it all mean?