Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

The Role of Zen in Modern Age

By zen master Prof. Masunaga Reiho

From Zen Beyond Zen by Prof. Masunaga Reiho, Chapter 5, Page 19, 1960.

Modern times can be called the emerging age of humanism. It grew from awareness of humanity and established the autonomy of human beings in contrast to the tyranny of the Middle Ages. Human awareness spurred the development of knowledge from myth to science.

Humanism emphasized individualism and science. For several centuries since the Renaissance these were important factors in creating the modern age.

They helped establish the politics, ethics and social conduct that we know today. They also laid the groundwork for democracy and socialism. Science advanced quickly. It built up knowledge that could not even be imagined in ancient times. In this way modern civilization came into being.

But from here two problems arose. One is the danger of annihilation inherent in modern warfare. The other is the increasing strength of social organization due to the development science. These problems deepened the anxiety of the modern human being. Social and scientific advances seem to have outrun the ability of people who would use them. Some of the users suffer from warped wills; the lack of moral strength. As science progresses human qualities seem to deteriorate. To correct this imbalance we must increase human compassion. Of course, individual good will is important, but in this age it is necessary to stress ethics. From the standpoint of humanity as a whole. We tend to look with amazement at the greatness of science but to remain blind to moral considerations. This is one of the major sources of the anxiety so prevalent today. Essentially this ethical problem is a religious one. From the standpoint of humanity as a whole, we can advance only by breaking through this dead end. The modern crisis stems from the increasing complexity of mechanical and social system.

One way out of this impose, may be Zen. Zen is a practice that penetrates to one's true self through cross-legged sitting and lead to vitalize this self in daily life. Zen frees the human being from the enslavement to machines and enables him to return to his basic humanity. It also eases the mental tension that comes from cultural fatigue and brings peace of mind. Zen maximizes the present moment through full awareness in daily life.

With its emphasis on the idea of Buddha-mind Zen helps the human being to fulfill his potentialities, It can guide Science into less destructive channels. Since it's basic standpoint transcends dualism; Zen offers some hope of softening the ideological conflict that now threatens human existence. The mode of unity has characterized Eastern culture. As Seng-Chao (384-1414) said: Heaven end earth are of the same root. All things are identical with me. The West, on the other hand, has emphasized dualism. From this grew science and philosophy.

Eastern unity, while important to religion, has tended to limit scientific progress, Western dualism, while necessary to science does not leave much room for religions development. The culture of the future must embrace the strong points of both Western scientific thought and Eastern religious intuition. Zen offers some respect of cutting through this apparent conflict and setting the stage for creative use of both science and religion. For Zen has the potentialities for guiding science without departing from the true religious spirit.

This seems to me the role of Zen in the modern world.