The western mind



We all have these ideas of what ‘Zen is’ however we eventually come to understand that the ‘ideas of what Zen is’ are viewed as naive and childish.

Popular culture tends to present a view of Zen that is overly-romanticized intertwined with this ‘Hollywood mysticism’, superhuman abilities, and mythic view that is utterly unachievable and unrealistic.

For many westerners the TV show Kung Fu that had a significant impact on the western mind as to what Zen is; in many actually believing that they would have adventures like what they saw on TV. Yes, it is unbelievably naive and childish yet the western mind since the early 70’s was driven to this state intentionally if nothing more for an easy audience to sell cheap and worthless products too.

Later, such films as ‘karate Kid’ with Mr Miyagi presents a under-dog hero that rises up to defeat the bullies, and then there is the Yoda of Star Wars, in where this mystical order of Jedi exhibit supernatural powers for the purposes of the good.

Hollywood and the TV industry creates these shows and films as ‘templates’ and ‘modeling, leading to a culture grossly saturated with cartoonish like caricature and adolescent world views in where the individual so steeped is such a culture is easily mesmerized/hypnotized to a state of mind in where they can be manipulated and controlled. Politics and the parties invest in this cultural brainwashing to leverage the TV and Hollywood creation to their ends.

It is true that there are what is viewed as ‘fan-fiction’ stories of old Chinese Zen masters and Buddhist monks; such as monks flying and other impossible feats to create a mystic and fascination for the readers of the times. Yet, these fan fictions where not considered cannon, nor seriously studied for anything more than entertainment content. However, when western mind comes in contact with these fan-fictions are misunderstood as cannon and those who read such stories believe that the fantastical fiction is reality. This often leads to unrealistic expectations and wrong understandings; especially with the notion of enlightenment, Buddhahood, and the Zen.

The positive characteristics of the western mind is the elastic nature, in that the western mind can grow, and out-grow old and once ignorant notions. This is often pointed out as a major difference when talking about East-West mind sets; in that Eastern/Asian cultures enforce views and positions that are unbending and hold-fast to the people. Many Japanese who have come to the west express a freedom that is not found in their home country, as Shunru Suzki remarks in his biography, where he can be more exploitative in his own teachings and mind, not just that only of his Zen order that he was ordained in, as such would be expected in Japan.

We also see the same with Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan monk who disrobed once he came to the west, and started his own brand of teaching. He also expressed that the elastic mind of the west allowed him to teach in a way that would have been rejected in the East and likely branded him as a heretic.

The west has shown a fertile ground for the further development of Zen and Buddhism from the cultural imports brought over from the east. Though some westerns cling to the cultural imports, most have moved beyond them to discover a Zen and Buddhism that is more fitting for themselves and the times.

An chapter from the up and coming book: The Path of Zen


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