These days the Persian Gulf war is very much on everyone’s mind. This naturally leads to the question I was recently asked, “What is Zen’s point of view on the war?” While this may sound like a pertinent and timely question, ultimately it cannot be answered because Zen has no point of view. An ancient worthy once noted that, “the view of all Buddhas and Patriarchs is the same – no view.” To someone who just wants to understand something, like our present war, not a lot is offered here. However, in the end this is the one thing which draws us to Zen practice: the basic sanity of “no point of view.” So, you will be spared one more analysis of the war.
One thing which is unique about the Buddha, and the Zen Masters in our tradition, is that they do not put forth a religion or a philosophy of life but rather point directly to Truth or, as it is said in Zen, “point directly to the human Mind.” This pointing itself is not another explanation but a means to bring one to a deep questioning about life. What am I? What is a human being? Why are we living on this planet? Any meditation practice or spiritual journey boils down to finding the answer to this great question, “Who am I?” As a practice aiming toward attainment, rather than mere understanding, Zen does not rely on concepts, beliefs, theology or ideology. Zen’s method is to evoke our own direct experience of life.
Another important aspect of the practice of great questioning is its direction. When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree it was not out of self-concern. His questioning was for all of humanity, since he was trying to resolve the question of human suffering, of human existence. Great questioning has this direction – for all beings. Of course, you are one of them. So, even though we may be concerned with our personal quagmire – emotional, psychological, existential or spiritual – ultimately our direction as Zen practitioners is to answer the great question which goes before these “smaller,” though not insignificant, concerns.
Recently we all breathed a collective sigh of relief because the threat of nuclear holocaust had been lifted. And now we face another major conflict, the Persian Gulf War. Much of human history is the history of conflict. Desire, anger and ignorance are continually going around and around, on an individual, family, national and international level. This war can contribute to our practice by bringing us to a deeper realization that the mind that creates conflict – this human mind – is also in each one of us.
The finger of blame which historically has been pointed at the Saddam Husseins of the world can also be pointed at us. Zen Master Seung Sahn was once asked where atomic bombs come from; what kind of person would do that? He said, “They are made by the mind which likes this and doesn’t like that.” And that is inside each one of us. The mind that wants to go to war is us. This same mind also has Buddha nature, though more or less hidden. So, this war can benefit us if it brings home more than ever the great question in each one of us, “What am I?” If we can resolve this question we have taken a step toward true world peace and helping others.