I was reading this blog post about a Zen master. There is part of the blog that attacks the intellect. Basically, the blog post highlights a passage along the lines of: ‘Ignorance is peaceful and the intellect destroys this peace by disturbing it without supplanting an alternative order or peace”
I hear this sort of thing all of the time, and it is hard not to get swallowed by this meta criticism of intellectualism. The paradox is that intellectualism is equated with criticism, and criticism is a destructive force that does not build/create, and thus intellectualism is not the path to enlightenment because the truth requires building understanding not destroying it, all while this is a intellectual criticism of intellectual criticism.
I proffer instead that one will never understand, nor will one ever find truth…which I’ve touched on before. It’s more about the journey than the destination. That sort of mumbo jumbo.
The Zen mystics are so frustrating because they are always presented in a way in which a supposedly enlightened person claims to be inwardly peaceful and offers you some cryptic metaphors that seem wise. They offer understanding in a form that requires surrender to an infinity. Most of what I have seen/read is about conquering the ego. And I like to explore these ideas because there is something to ego destroying that I find appealing…I won’t claim to be an expert or a scholar in the subject. I’m going off of some random blog posts, some Alan Watts, Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, etc…
These mystics play on the ignorance of western presupposition, and they are worth delving into just because they don’t buy into western thought full stop. But I was inspired to write about this to point out how annoying it is that the mystics are so able to criticize western thoughts by playing by different rules, and then bring up a defense of ignorance by presupposing the intentions of criticism.
Criticism is easier because you have something to work with. There is a framework some other person/people proposes, and they assert it as truth. The critics show them they are wrong, and there is some prestige offered to the critic. The critic is considered smart. etc…Yay.
The problem is that this is true. All of it. Criticism is easier. There is an incentive to criticize, and critics offer nothing really in the place of the original idea. It’s not appeasing to the blissful idiot.
The conclusion that critics are somehow lesser than the creators of a flawed idea is equally false…because all ideas are flawed. It’s not logical, as neither position could be said to be ‘more’ true. Many of the criticisms lead to modifications of original ideas/theories etc…to make them more robust. The whole cynicism around it is so hard to get a handle on, there is no moral lesson in any of it. No lesson that helps you make decisions about how to approach some theory. Do you take the extreme of accepting all ideas you have never heard before? Do you take the extreme position of rejecting all new ideas? Do you take only ideas that seem to be in the ‘spirit’ of building up understanding? Do you take only ideas that operate in the ‘spirit’ of tearing apart other peoples’ work? Nothing sounds like the ‘right’ way to do it. So don’t we sit now in the uncertain position of a disturbed, what was once blissful, ignorance? Is it any less fulfilling because we don’t know what it is we are talking about?
It’s funny because in the end, none of it really settles the debate. But here’s my position: it’s all wrong. And at this level of abstraction, in the blessed world we live in, where ‘meta’ has entered the contemporary jargon, we can go so ‘meta’ that it is a nice big ‘meta’ circle.
Want something for nothing? How about accepting that nothing you know has solid footing, nothing. Not even the physical sciences. So like you bend your knees and become more subtle on unsteady ground, so too you have to bend your mind’s knees, whatever that means.
When it comes down to criticizing the critic, by hailing the position of ignorance–and we all do it at some point, I am confident we could make that seem plausible–think about it in the lens of social conditioning. By raising the status of blissful ignorance over the know-it-all critic, what behavior is being encouraged? Blind acceptance of the status quo…which sounds equally shitty, because in power relationships between people, people exploit ignorance for whatever end suits them. It suits the Zen mystics, because in a world that is paying less attention to them…you know because they don’t use the scientific method…it makes sense that they would attempt to raise the relative status of blissful ignorance.
But really, this is just an intellectual criticism of Zen mysticism to raise the relative status of intellectual criticism.
Hot damn do I feel clever. C’mon people, gimme some status.