INTELLIGENCE – Artificial vs Natural
The dictionary defines intelligence as "the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills." I have also heard it defined, in an even more stripped-down version, as "the ability to learn." Without going into the overwhelming research on the subject, or its controversial political sideshow—resistance to dumbing us down to the level of our primate cousins—let us consider what the role of intelligence might mean, in Zen. We learn, from Master Dogen, that insight in Zen has little or nothing to do with conventional intelligence; but that "human faculties may be sharp or dull," from the Harmony of Difference and Equality (J. Sandokai).
If we take the latter, simpler definition, we can expand the meaning of intelligence to include so-called "lower" animals, obviously. But with a little more liberal attitude, may even countenance the behavior of a tree, as exhibiting the ability to learn. That is, a root grows through the soil, and encounters a blockage, such as a stone, or another root. The tree does not keep pushing against the stone, like a human being, beating her or his head against the wall. Instead, it follows the route of least resistance, by going around the impediment. You might argue that there is no recognition, by the tree, of what is occurring, that indeed, it does continue pushing, but that it is the yielding of the relatively softer soil, that enables its change of direction. And, of course, you would be correct, insofar as that analysis goes. We do not attribute intent to a tree, after all, let alone the stone.
At the end of 2015, looking forward to the New Year and advent of 2016, the ASZC's 39th year of continuous operation, we have reason to celebrate. But we also have reason to question the reasons we are in the business of "selling water by the river," as Jiyu Kennet Roshi defined propagating Zen, in the title of one or her publications. It sometimes seems that we are not appreciated for our efforts, and that our mission may be a fool's errand, especially when we have difficulty with meeting our financial obligations, a characteristic of all Zen groups.
During the rampant consumerism of the holiday season, exemplified by the hysteria engendered by continuous promotion of sales and the giveaways of thousands of dollars in the Twelve Days of the Ellen DeGeneres show (which may have started as a play on her name), we come to question the values of the society in which we find ourselves. We must wonder at the stupefying, wide-eyed rapture all the bright lights and sparkling promise of prosperity inspires.
We can take some comfort in the admonition of one of our Chinese forefathers to, "with practice hidden, function secretly, like a fool, like an idiot"; and his assurance that "just to continue in this way is called the 'Host within the host'," a peak experience in Zen terms, the height of awareness. A high accomplishment that has nothing to do with how we may appear, or relate, to others, our "guests."
RETURNING FROM JAPAN
In my recounting of my first trip to Japan in 1989, I remarked that when we arrived in Tokyo and settled in at our "businessman's hotel" (J. seifuso), breaking out our sitting cushions (J. zafu), and sitting in zazen, it became clear to me that I had not gone anywhere. Ten thousand miles and four thousand dollars later, we were — or at least I was — in the same place. And, indeed, that there is only one place. Some historical references may be appropriate here, to get a grip on the historical scope of Matsuoka Roshi's mission to the US, in the context of the times as well as those leading up to his lifetime, and our following in his gentle footsteps.
This month we celebrate Founder's Month, recognizing that our founding teacher from Japan, who asked to be called, simply, Sensei, was born, and died, in the month of November, the former in 1912, the latter in 1997, some 20 years after the founding of ASZC.