Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Dirty Zen

Napa Valley Center for Spiritual Living, Napa, California, USA

January 14, 2022

"I appreciate your commitment to communicating with me on the basis of what you have to share and contribute, rather than 'in order to' something. For me there is nothing presumptuous in your saying 'our relationship'. I take our relationship as a gift from you. What you say is very high class Zen. Good for you."
somewhere over Siberia en route to Tokyo, in an e-mail conversation with Laurence Platt
This essay, Dirty Zen, is the twenty second in an open group on Zen:

OK, let's face it: beautiful is easy ... or (if you prefer) "beauty" ie "the  beautiful" is easy. And whatever can be said for "beauty" ie if it can be said for "the beautiful" ... then the same could also be said for "elegance" / "the elegant" ... and the same could also said for "taste" / "the tasteful" ... and the same could also be said for "appropriateness" / "the appropriate". Beauty begets Zen. Elegance begets Zen. Taste begets Zen. Appropriateness begets Zen. Zen goeswith  (as Alan Watts may have said) beauty, elegance, taste, and appropriateness.

It's easy to get Zen when it's one, some, any, or all of the above. But it's particularly  easy to get Zen in beauty. It's easy to get Zen in a sunset. It's easy to get Zen in an austere, spartan, impeccably neat Zen monastery ie especially  in an austere, spartan, impeccably neat Zen monastery (look: isn't austere / spartan / impeccable its own domain of high-class-Zen-beautiful? indeed, isn't it beautiful's own home?). And in beautiful, isn't it easy to get Zen? It's easy to get Zen under a windless, moonscaped sky. It's easy to get Zen in an orange and purple tinged flaming dawn. It's easy to get Zen on a white powder-sand beach of a crystal clear blue lagoon.

In the beautiful, it's easy to get Zen. Like that (maybe because  of it too) you can get Zen in an immaculately curated art gallery. That's easy. You can get Zen in the sound of windchimes at the gate by bonsai trees in a gentle breeze. You can even get Zen poignantly in the toiletries immaculately laid out on David Bowie's granite bathroom countertop. You can get Zen especially in the brocade and filigree of a Zen master's shirt. It's all beautiful. It's easy getting Zen in and from the beautiful.

It's the quality of beauty that calls forth Zen. Almost no intervention or discrimination is required on our part to get the beautiful Zen. We see it, we get it (thinking is an optional extra - indeed, truth is it isn't required at all). Zen is ... well, it's just ... Zen  as it ripples out from the astounded "A-Ha!"  in the stillness of the temple-Zen, in the midst of the Kyoto museum-Zen, in the peace of the pagoda-Zen. And when Zen is beautiful, it's easy. Beautiful is easy. And the beautiful is Zen. It's very Zen. Anyone can get Zen when it's beautiful. You can. I can. And you do. And I do. We're thrown that way. We're thrown to the beautiful, peaceful, calm Zen. We get it.

Now watch: there's a pernicious trap in all of that, which is this: what of when it's not  beautiful? Some things are beautiful. Some aren't. So if Zen is only Zen when it's beautiful, then isn't it really not  Zen after all? What about when it's ugly? What about when it's gross ie when it's icky and yucky?  What about when it's dirty?  Well? What about  dirty Zen? Look at your world. Scrutinize your world. Distinguish the dirty  in it. Distinguish the dirty Zen. Until you can do that, you won't capture my interest. Beautiful isn't enough. What about dirty? Speak to me of the ugly, the gross, the icky, the yucky, the dirty Zen. Engage me. Thrill me with your acumen.

A Zen master gets Zen in the ugly and the gross and the icky and the yucky and the dirty, not just in the beautiful. A Zen master gets the Zen, the perfection of it all, in all  of it. Look: if you have Zen as only in the beautiful, that's naïve. It's clearly being unclear-on-the-concept. That's not really Zen at all (how could it be?). You have to include dirty Zen. You have to embrace it. You have to surrender to it. Look: consider getting your entire life  from dirty Zen ... which is to say consider getting your Zen  from dirty Zen, from your relationship with it, from waking up from your naïve blindness to it, from giving up your arbitrary resistance to and exclusion of it.

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