Perniciousness of False Views in Zen and Cosmology

In recent decades our knowledge of the cosmos as well as our knowledge of Zen has greatly improved – and greatly altered – our understanding of both. New discoveries, advances in technology and methodology, and more extensive research have revealed much in both realms that was formerly unsuspected. As a result, whole new avenues of study have opened up. For example, new discoveries in cosmology led to the introduction of theories about dark energy and dark matter; and the recent confirmation of the continuity between the Zen koan literature of China and the works of Eihei Dogen (until recently explicitly denied) has led to new understandings of both.

While new facts established by recent discoveries are crucial, of even greater significance are fallacies that have been toppled – some of which had been sustained for centuries. For example the whole world of science was shaken to its very core when experimental evidence shattered the basic scientific tenet that ‘objects’ separated by space are and must be independent realities. As physicist and author Brian Greene writes:

We used to think that a basic property of space is that it separates and distinguishes one object from another. But we now see that quantum mechanics radically challenges this view. Two things can be separated by an enormous amount of space and yet not have a fully independent existence. A quantum connection can unite them, making the properties of each contingent on the properties of the other. Space does not distinguish such entangled objects. Space cannot overcome their interconnection. Space, even a huge amount of space, does not weaken their quantum mechanical interdependence.

Brian Greene,The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, Vintage (February 8, 2005), p.122

The fact that ‘distinct objects’ far distant from each other in space can be so interconnected that the very existence of each is utterly dependent on the existence of the other flies in the face of a multitude of basic ‘scientific facts.’

At least as significant an upheaval occurred within the Zen community with the obliteration of the nearly universally accepted fallacy of Zen’s anti-literary, anti-philosophical stance. In direct contradiction to the longstanding notion that Zen was aloof from, or even disparaging of literary and philosophical pursuits, scholarship has shown that such pursuits are actually considered to be essential elements of authentic Zen practice. Learning and study, it turns out, is as integral to Zen practice as is meditation (zazen). In the words of Hee-Jin Kim:

The issue was not so much whether or not to philosophize as it was how to philosophize… [The] philosophic enterprise was as much the practice of the bodhisattva way as was zazen.

Hee-Jin Kim, Eihei Dogen: Mystical Realist, Wisdom Publications; 3 Revised edition (January 1, 2000), p.98

Despite having been thoroughly repudiated by the scholarship for decades, the anti-literary fallacy continues to prevail. The pernicious tenacity of this particular false view is seen in the fact that it not only continues to prevail outside the Zen community, but within it as well. As we shall touch on again, in advocating a disdain for learning and study, this fallacy fosters the veneration of anti-intellectualism. By deliberately cultivating a disdain for knowledge and a distrust of language, those that ascribe to such views effectively bar themselves from its only remedy: reason.

Excerpt from,  Zen Cosmology: Dogen’s Contribution to the Search for a New Worldview