Friday, April 4, 2014

Manifesting the Universe, This Moment Presence

Zen practice is living compassionately.

Descriptions and theories are not the point of Zen, and often lead in directions which are neither skillful nor supportive.

Nevertheless, many of us like theories, and I am often asked to speak in those terms. Descriptions and theories can serve supportive, skillful and even nurturing purposes, despite the fact that descriptions can also lead to distortion, sometimes more so than adding light.

Asked to say something, right now my opinion is that our life is the universe coming together in this moment,  all sorts of phenomenon, physical and mental, known and unknown, coming together now and giving us the opportunity of presencing, being present, awake - and "out" of that presence, responding. In being present, noticing this moment habits and forces, we can make a choice/effort in manifesting this universe we are. The above is said when pressed to speak in these terms, nothing else.

An interesting discussion of rationality, neurology, psychology and more, especially the most recent scientific research, is an article by Paul Bloom which includes the following:

"As you read this article, your actions are determined by physical law, but unless you have been drugged, or have a gun to your head, or are acting under the influence of a behavior-changing brain tumor, reading it is what you have chosen to do. You have reasons for that choice, and you can decide to stop reading if you want. If you should be doing something else right now—picking up a child at school, say, or standing watch at a security post—your decision to continue reading is something you are morally responsible for.

The idea of “choosing” to stop (or choosing anything at all), they suggest, implies a mystical capacity to transcend the physical world. Many people think about choice in terms of this mystical capacity, and I agree with the determinists that they’re wrong. But instead of giving up on the notion of choice, we can clarify it. The deterministic nature of the universe is fully compatible with the existence of conscious deliberation and rational thought—with neural systems that analyze different options, construct logical chains of argument, reason through examples and analogies, and respond to the anticipated consequences of actions, including moral consequences. These processes are at the core of what it means to say that people make choices, and in this regard, the notion that we are responsible for our fates remains intact.

But this is where philosophy ends and psychology begins. It might be possible that we are physical beings who can use reason and make choices. But haven’t the psychologists shown us that this is wrong, that reason is an illusion? The sorts of findings I began this article with—about the surprising relationship between bakery smells and altruism, or between the weight of a résumé and how a job candidate is judged—are often taken to show that our everyday thoughts and actions are not subject to conscious control.

This body of research has generated a lot of controversy, and for good reason: some of the findings are fragile, have been enhanced by repeated testing and opportunistic statistical analyses, and are not easily replicated. But some studies have demonstrated robust and statistically significant relationships. Statistically significant, however, doesn’t mean actually significant. Just because something has an effect in a controlled situation doesn’t mean that it’s important in real life...."

For the rest of this wide-ranging article see:

(c) 2014 Elihu Genmyo Smith