Between Stockholm Syndrome and Lima Syndrome
Part 35: Religious Obsessions Versus Spiritual Awakening
-THE 14TH DALAI LAMA
Upon juxtaposing pacifism in martial arts with violence in religion as outlined in Part 33 (Pacifism in Martial Arts, Violence in Religions), the inevitable question remains: Why? What causes the paradox? As explained in Part 30 (The Source of Violence in Religion), someone's inclination towards pacifism or violence may have been determined by carved-in-stone eschatological factors. In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), believers are constantly bombarded—from cradle to grave, consciously and subconsciously—with the notions of rewards and punishments, heaven and hell, last day judgment, Battle of Armageddon, and last but not least martyrdom in its most perverted form: screaming Allahu Akbar then blowing oneself (and others involuntarily) up to pieces. In Judaism and Christianity, according to the Book of Revelation, Armageddon will be "the site of a gathering of armies for a battle during the end times." In Islam, Muslims believe in Yawm al-Qiyāmah (Resurrection Day) or Yawm ad-Dīn (Judgment Day) which is believed to be "the final assessment of humanity by Allah, consisting of the annihilation of all life, resurrection and judgment." Somehow, there is always an undeniable element of violence and destruction.
Unlike Abrahamic religions, Zen Buddhism, is a nontheist religion. It does not promise an afterlife. This contrast has been outlined in Part 32 (Aiki: the Source of Spiritual Dimension and Pacifism in Zen Martial Arts?) but it's still worth repeating: Lacking sacred scriptures, religious creed, rigid dogma, a Savior or Messiah, rewards and punishments, even a holy city, Zen Buddhism relies more on development of self-knowledge and desire for spiritual awakening. Indeed the following anecdote captures the essence of Zen Buddhism:
One of Buddha’s students asked him, "Are you the messiah?"
-"No", answered Buddha.
"Then are you a healer?"
-"No", Buddha replied.
"Then are you a teacher?" the student persisted.
-"No, I am not a teacher."
"Then what are you?" asked the student, exasperated.
-"I am awake", Buddha replied.
The notion that Buddha's aim was not to save others—instead, to help individuals save themselves or simply awaken them—is definitely liberating and provides a certain refreshing air of freedom. While the oppression by a God (not to count the class of clergy and theologians), the obsessions with religious creed, and the tyranny of dogma in Abrahamic religions may generate OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), anxiety and violence; the liberation and freedom in godless Zen Buddhism seems to bring acceptance, bliss, and peace of mind even to the most unlikely candidates: martial artists! Go figure. Let's blame that on the law of unintended consequences.
Indeed, the same Zen Buddhist traits of self-reliance, self discipline, individual effort, self-mastery and nonattachment that were proven to be critically important for samurai warriors in the battle fields are as important for modern martial artists in their spiritual lives. Therefore, the subtle eschatological difference between believers in Abrahamic religions and martial artists inspired by godless Zen Buddhism may very well predict the inclination towards violence or pacifism.
Such is the appeal of Zen Buddhism, that since the 19th century, it had caught the attention of prominent western scholars and non-Buddhist philosophers. Danish existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung (1875-1961), Jewish existentialist philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965), novelist Franz Kafka (1883-1924), German philosopher and phenomenologist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), German social psychologist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980), and French existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) all had positively commented on Zen Buddhism one way or another. Martin Heidegger claimed that in Zen Buddhism text he encountered the very ideas he had been developing independently. Erich Fromm's book, Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (1959, with co-authors D. T. Suzuki and Richard De Martino) is still considered a classic in modern psychoanalysis. In this book, Fromm contrasted the subtle differences between Judaism-Christianity and Zen Buddhism.
Both Judaism-Christianity and Zen Buddhism call for giving up one's "will" (to control) in order to be completely open, responsive, awaken and alive. That's where the similarity ends. While in Judaism-Christianity this awareness is interpreted as "to slay oneself and to accept the will of God," in Zen Buddhism it is interpreted as "to make oneself empty", which means an openness to receive. On the surface there seems to be little difference between these two interpretations. That said, while the interpretation in Judaism-Christianity calls for an individual to be obedient and submissive, the one in Zen Buddhism calls for an individual to be open and responsive. "Zen's concept of emptiness implies the true meaning of giving up one's will," Fromm wrote, "yet without the danger of regressing to the idolatrous concept of a helping father." In essence, the crystal clear choice is between not thinking for oneself versus thinking for oneself; between religious obsessions versus spiritual awakening; between perceiving oneself as a slave versus a master.
More reliance on personal accountability in Zen Buddhism translates into less dependence and need for a Savior or Messiah. As succinctly expressed by Fromm: "(t)o follow God's will in the sense of true surrender of egoism is best done if there is no concept of God. Paradoxically, I truly follow God's will if I forget about God." In retrospect, if God is truly that almighty and omnipotent, He (or She?) can afford to be occasionally forgotten by puny and unworthy human beings—can't He?
[To be continued.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter