Those of you familiar with zen may also know of Case VI of The Mumonkan where Shakka Buddha is addressing the arhats, bodhisatvas and the biksus at Grdhrakuta. He held up a flower, (only) Mahakasyapa smiled and Buddha says
“Without relying upon words and letters, beyond all teaching as a social transmission, I pass this all onto Mahakasyapa.” (Blyth translation).
Centuries later in China, Hui Neng, an illiterate kitchen worker was selected over hundreds of monks be the Sixth Patriarch of Chan, and below, to further emphasize that Buddha Mind is not transmitted from writings, he is ripping up a “holy text.”
I am sure you get the picture, to these people zen is not an intellectual experience to be learned from reading, but whether that is or is not, is not the concern of this post and is most likely beyond my ken.
But the other day I noticed this book in the bookstore, at 72 years old I rarely buy books anymore, and I treat the bookstore as a library , where I go in and read for awhile although I may buy a $3 sale book because I like the pictures.’
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was popular in the 1960s or 70s and in popular culture reinforced a common understanding that zen was simply about the getting to the essentials of something, and when people referred to the zen of this, there zen of that, the zen of businesses, the zen of buying a car, etc. they were not referring to buddhist zen but to the idea of a technical method for understanding the real essence of something to enable one to accomplish something.
Perhaps classifying zen as a technique for achieving something might be indicative of something else, its not my point, here, but rather above I present two century old examples suggesting that words may get in the way of “zen enlightenment,” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a popular book said to get “to the essentials” and then here is a book which purports to be a guidebook to a book which is said to “get the essentials” of understanding something which for centuries has said that writing gets in the way of the understanding.
I like a quote said to be from Woodrow Wilson Guthrie—“Let me be the person to tell you something you already know.”
I get curious about what people are doing, normally.
All the human behaviour which makes headlines is mostly abnormal, perhaps that is why is make headlines—“dog bites man, or man bites dog?”
I like to the shapes, the gestures, the lines the colors, the compositions in the arrangements of people doing “common normal everyday” things, these are the behaviors that make up culture, the institutions that enabled and continue to enable societies to survive.
However I am not so concerned with a record of William graduating from high school or Dorothy drinking champagne on the beach,
rather the visual distributions of people behaving like they do most of the time. We do not know who they are, and if we met them we would not recognize them from these images…
but it is this behaviour which generates the field of institutions (culture) necessary to make survival of human societies possible. Or maybe its just a joeke.