December 17, 2009

Should a Zen Buddhist Have Passion?

How does a Buddhist talk and present their point of view? When I was younger, I met a person who said she was Buddhist, but she was so hyper and enthusiastic, and even opinionated! I couldn't imagine how that could be Zen or any kind of Buddhist.

But now that I've studied Buddhism for a while, I see that it's all just carrying water and chopping wood. If that's the case, then what does being Zen look like?

Right speech - that's part of the eightfold path. But what is right speech in one culture versus another? What is right speech on the internet and in public conversation? What is right speech when someone is hitting you and everyone around you with a stick?

I recently had a very strong reaction in one of my blog posts on my other blog, JustEnough, and one of my comments basically replied with, "That's not very zen or compassionate of you to say this."

It really got me thinking. Well, first it was a clear sign that I'm not a perfect Buddhist. And perhaps, it's a great lesson that I will never be a perfect Buddhist, nor should I try to attain that.

But it also got me thinking about how I approach logic and arguments, and how I deal with the group of people I represent being hit with the same verbal stick over and over again. Does my response lead to the least amount of suffering? What is the correct Zen response? Is letting someone push me and everyone in the group I'm in, without response, the path to less suffering? Would having a soft, calm, approach work in this case? Is it possible to have passion and still be soft and effective at getting them to stop swinging?

On the one hand, personal attacks towards me, don't bother me much. But attacks on groups of people, especially the groups of people who I feel are "underdogs," is like sticking a hot poker under my fingernails. I cannot help but respond to help give strength to the less powerful group - especially if they are made weak because of the pressure being put on by the stronger group.

But, does this just perpetrate the "us vs. them" situation that has already been established by the stronger group? The “us vs. them” mentality is a strong one in our culture, not just among homeschoolers. My intention with the response on my blog was not to create an “us vs. them”, nor was my mind there when I wrote it. In fact, I can understand all too well the place where Kristen and Allison are, because I was there once. And perhaps, I’m on the other side of where they are? But, I am indeed passionate about this topic, and sometimes, after being hit with the same stick in the same place over and over again, it’s hard to have perfect compassion without lacing it with frustration.

While I have compassion for those who are anti-homeschooling or think that they understand homeschoolers when they in fact do not at all, I also have a strong response to irony and large elephants in the room, which will probably be with me until I die, no matter how Zen I get. :)

So, that leaves the question - fight for what I believe in while pointing out flaws in logic and presentation, all while allowing others to be who they are and speak their minds (i.e. have a debate) - or let the world happen as it will while I sit in zazen? I do go back and forth about that a lot, and swing towards both extremes from time to time, ever searching for the elusive middle way.

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