Irreverent Look at Zen in America
Rev. Lynn "Jnana" Sipe - Zen Dharma Teacher
Dharma Talk at the IBMC --- Zen has had a significant
religious impact in America for at least half a century. For
most of that time its influence has been limited to literature
and the arts in addition to a small, but growing, sangha of
ordained teachers and practitioners. In recent years, however,
popularized notions of Zen have entered the cultural mainstream
of American society so that Zen has become a trendy buzzword.
These fashionable impressions of Zen overlook, of course, such
basic concepts as our inherent Buddha nature, the possibility
of sudden enlightenment, or the importance of meditation, lineage,
teachings and traditions of the main Zen schools. The popular
notions, not altogether surprisingly, generally focus on Zen
as a source of coolness, serenity and clear-minded focus and
concentration. Such single-mindedness is thought to lead to
self-improvement and success in business or personal affairs,
contributing to Zens special cachet.
While there certainly are elements of truth in these notions,
it unfortunately remains likely that popular cultures
embrace of Zen is a mile wide but only inches deep. And it is
here that the seriously irreverent portion of my talk begins.
The unorthodox approach Ive adopted for this talk is to
view the way Zen has permeated popular culture in America through
the prism of some titles of selected articles in various popular,
trade and professional publications, reflecting differing aspects
of American culture and taken from publications of just the
last four years. Please remember that all of the titles quoted
here are real and from actual publications.
To bring us up to speed lets first look at Zen titles
in the context of automobiles and transportation. We can begin
with the basics as in Engine Zen, an article in
HOT ROD magazine, then move from an expected focus on specific
car models in The Zen of Nissan: the classic Z car is
. to a WALL STREET JOURNAL feature on renting
a car: Cranky consumer: Zen and the art of car rental
to the experience of riding the bus in The Zen of the
bus in the NEW YORK TIMES.
Wheels, of course, carry us to sports and outdoor activities,
where Zen-related titles seem to proliferate. Zen in golf doesnt
surprise us, as in Fairway Zen but perhaps Zen
and horses: lessons from a year of riding does. In contrast
to the earlier article in HOT ROD there is also the opposite
take in The Zen of no engine, which is an article
on sailing. There is also Zen in the great outdoors as in Wilderness
Zen or, closer to home, Of moss and men: the Zen
of green gardening. If too much exertion has taken place
with all of this outdoor activity there is always Zen
and the art of anti-inflammatories, which appeared in
Many golfers come from business and industry and in this field
we arrive at some of the more heartwarming titles in our survey.
First up is Zen and the art of propane safety in
the trade journal LP-GAS. Or how about The Zen of contractor
relations? Zen is indeed everywhere as we can see from
Zen in the warehouse, an article found in MODERN
MATERIALS HANDLING, another trade journal. So, not surprisingly,
another publication gives us Zen and the art of security
maintenance. If we really want to zone out we can investigate
The Zen of corporate capital structure neutrality
in the MICHIGAN LAW REVIEW.
Zen plays very well in the bits and bytes world of computers
and information technology as seen from these not dissimilar
examples: Zen and the art of operating system maintenance
and The ZEN of NetWare server management. Thinking
more globally there is Zen and the art of IT governance
or more personally there is Zen computer: mindfulness
and the machine, this last one having appeared in THE
Legal and law enforcement interests provide us with two contrasting
approaches to justice as indicated, on the one hand, by Zen
and the art of jurisprudence, again thanks to the MICHIGAN
LAW REVIEW and, on the other hand, Zen and the shoot house,
an article in professional publication LAW & ORDER.
The field of leadership and management has proven rather disappointing
for its Zen-related titles, as one would expect more from these
folks. They did, however, provide us with the provocative Throwing
the elephant: Zen and the art of managing up in TIME magazine
as well as the possibly oxymoronic The Zen of meetings
in the trade publication SUCCESSFUL MEETINGS.
Non-Buddhist religious traditions offer us Zen gifts to
Christians published in the ANGLICAN THEOLOLGICAL REVIEW
or a book entitled Zen Judaism: for you a little enlightenment.
More encompassing perhaps is another article, this one simply
entitled Zen ecumenicism.
Art and architecture are sometimes closely related to religion
and Zen, of course, figures in their publications as well. There
is this Zen-like title in ART NEWS, Zen No Zen or
perhaps more enlightening is The ZEN of luminosity
in AMERICAN ARTIST. Architects vary in approaching the subject,
as witness the challenging notion of Zen tectonics
in one publication or the simple A splash of Zen
in ARCHITECTURAL RECORD. The architects also confirm what we
already know, that Zen is in the details.
Zenishness has penetrated perhaps as deeply in the areas of
decorating and design as anywhere in American culture. We all
could learn from The Zen of kitchen storage in BON
APPETIT or perhaps
The Zen of bathing in the
less accessible magazine PROFESSIONAL BUILDER. METROPOLITAN
HOME reminds us some people have it all with Island Zen.
However, I bet you didnt know it was so easy as Zen
on a hanger. Or perhaps it isnt so easy, as suggested
by Zen and the art of award placement.
The world of music should not go unnoted, such as the article
from DOWN BEAT entitled Drumming with the Zen of trane.
Personally, I prefer Zen and the art of opera from
the NEW YORK TIMES.
If music is in the background can food and drink be far behind;
certainly not if it is The Zen of frosting in GOURMET
or Zen and tonic from the LOS ANGELES TIMES. If
we turn to the art of approach to Zen we find Zen
and the art of fettuccini or, even better, Zen and
the art of chocolate-making. Less exciting but more serious
is Zen and the art of dishwashing.
Parenting, we gather, can teach us something about Zen as well,
as noted by Zen and the art of motherhood, with
the offspring being Zen baby. The mother part I
think I can conceptualize but I would like to meet such a baby.
America is obsessed with attention to self and the person so
it is fitting that this is another area rich in Zen interest,
as evidenced by the following disparate examples: Zen
and the art of pedicure; Lose weight the Zen way;
Being Black: Zen and the art of living with fearlessness
and grace; Zen and the art of skin maintenance and
the curiously titled The Zen of Alzheimers.
We can escape from all of this self-centeredness with Zen
and the art of fleeing to safety from a weather-focused
publication entitled WEATHERWISE.
Perk up your ears now for well pay some fleeting attention
to sex-related issues. The fun starts with Zen and the
art of lechery in, where else but, VANITY FAIR. This can
get out of hand, of course, as referenced by The Zen of
sexual harassment, which sounds like a primer on how to
do harassment really well. A happy ending is provided, however,
by Zen sex: the way of making love.
Leaving all of this serious stuff behind us now, lets
note that writers love to make puns on the word Zen,
as witnessed by Zen pecked and Zen and now.
Groan along with me when confronted with at least six different
articles, each of which is entitled Now and Zen.
The perpetrating publications range from the SPORTING NEWS to
the NEW YORKER to SPC: SOAP, PERFUMERY, AND COSMETICS.
No seriously irreverent survey of this subject can conclude
without reference to one title which gave me particular pause,
and this from a publication that normally provides few reasons
for pausing, USA TODAY; this little gem is Zen and the
art of cooking up Italian mysteries. And with that, the
zentral thread of my discourse has unraveled.
Please forgive me and may you be peaceful, happy and well.
by - Rev. Lynn "Jnana" Sipe
In the Numbers
European Discovery of Indian Buddhism