One reason I had always been interested in Zen was my sense that for people like myself, trained in abstraction, Zen could serve as the ideal tonic. For Zen, as I understood it, was about the slicing with a clean sword all the Gordian knots invented by the mind, plunging through all specious dualities – east and west, here and there, coming and going – to get to some core so urgent that its truth could not be doubted. The best lesson that Zen could teach – though it was, of course, something of a paradox to say or even think it – was to go beyond a kind of thinking that was nothing more than agonizing, and simplly act. In that sense, Zen reminded me of Johnson’s famous refutation of Berkeley by kicking a stone. It was unanswerable as pain.
This training had particular appeal for me, perhaps, because I had often thought that the mind was, quite literally a devil’s advocate, an agent of diabolical sophistry that could argue any point and its opposite with equal conviction; an imp that delighted in self-contradiction and yet, though full of sound and fury, ultimately signified nothing. None of the truest things in life – like love or faith – was arrived at by thinking; indeed, one could almost define the things that mattered as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder. Too often, I thought, the rational faculty tended only to rationalize, and the intellect served only to put one in two minds, torn apart by second thoughts. In that sense, God could be said to be nothing but the act of faith itself. Religion lay in the leap and not the destination. And Zen was as much anything as a refutation of doubt itself; a transendence of the whole either/or sensibility that makes up all our temporizing. Instead of temporizing, as Thoreau might have said, why do we not eternize?
In all these ways, Zen seemed the natural product of a culture that has little time for philosophical speculation but stresses instead the merits of ritual, rigor, and repetition. The directness of Zen seemed to reflect the utilitarian concreteness of modern Japan, where people seemed rarely to dwell on suffering or to give themselves to close self-study. Zen, after all, was about whole-heartedness – or, at least,whole-mindedness.
—-From “The Lady And The Monk – Four Seasons in Kyoto”
Pico Iyer is a heartwarming writer. I think I would like to read all his books.