Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Is Zen supposed to be fun?


  1. Recently, an associate from thirty years ago managed to contact me by telephone and asked me what I was doing with myself these days. I was excited to hear from him and proceeded to tell him about my practice, our growing sangha, all the landscape work going on around the Zendo, the island retreat center, my prison dharma work and my work with the homeless.

    When I was done telling him all of this there was a long silence at the end of which he asked: “I meant, what are you doing for fun?”

    Maybe he just didn’t hear what I was saying.

  2. Hi, Michael.

    It seems to me that, if I approach something with the attitude that it's supposed to be fun, it generally turns out not to be fun!

    Besides, play is often a very serious business methinks.



  3. I guess it depends on what you consider fun.


  4. I don't know if it is supposed to be fun or not, but you need a good sense of humor to practice Zen.

  5. I'd make a rubbish lawyer - I've asked a question without first defining my terms!

    I'll not define "Zen" - that would be equivalent to poking my finger in a wasps' nest and screaming, "Come and get me, you mothers!"

    But what is "fun"? The dictionary says, "pleasure, gaiety, or merriment" - but at least east of the Atlantic "fun" means only "gaity or merriment" because "pleasure" can mean quiet joys, such as listening to Gorecki. Even those who love Gorecki would not classify listening to his "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs" as fun! A pleasure, yes; fun, no, just as when I was carefully laying stones around the perimeter of the Open Gate Zendo, it was a quiet pleasure, whilst in contrast my two co-"workers" who were using their brooms for spontaneous, informal kendo were clearly having fun!

    So working with the definition that "pleasure" is a broader term which can include listening to Leonard Cohen, whilst "fun" is anarrower term typified by participation in a Brazilian street carnival...

    Is Zen supposed to be fun?

  6. If you would like to so narrowly define “fun” and use a Brazilian Street Carnival as an example, then I would have to say no, Zen is not supposed to be fun. Personally, I have never found loud noisy crowed events to be “fun” at all. For many years in my youth, I attempted to understand what people found so enjoyable to be where there were way too many people and way too much noise, but no avail. My favorite part was always leaving with friends to find somewhere more conducive to personal enjoyment. All the things I have found to be really “fun” in my life, have always been things I have done alone or with close friends and family. Doing simple things like, eating good food, sailing, hiking, listening to music, pushing kids on a swing, playing with puppies and/or teasing cats with string (or better yet a laser pointer…)

    I’ve known a quite a few people who seem to only really be having fun when there is lots of people and lots of noise, otherwise they seem to be rather bored with themselves , bored with life and for the most part, rather boring themselves. Not much fun to be with on a normal Sunday afternoon.

  7. Fun is as natural as it is, like "pushing kids on a swing." At least the kids usually get it. They seem to be masters of fun until they get older and have more ideas about what is and isn't fun, or boring. As fun is defined, or associated with some shade of experience, it is sought out of boredom and boredom seems to me a state of disconnectedness. The only experience we have is of ourselves. If you can't feel you, and seek what's around you for fun, you are bored and boring. I too have found that all the things i experience as fun in my life have been done alone or in the company of close friends and family, as Koro Kaisan says. Even in the company of those i enjoy, it is still the experience of myself in relation to those around that is fun. Even in the company of those i love, it is still some inner solitude that is a hell of of a lot more fun than what the culture seems to define as such.

    Pleasure, gaiety, fun and merriment, seem to reflect more of the culture's idea of fun... i might substitute those words for "delighting in one's experience of ... this. The aforementioned are all nouns. The latter is a verb, expressing existence. Which has more Zen?

    i googled "fun" seeking this alleged dictionary definition. And it turns out there are 53,609 results for "fun" in the Portland Oregon area. And right now i'm watching children chase a chickens around the chicken coop.

  8. Come on, guys, we know what "fun" means! If Zen does not fit the concept of fun, lets be brave and say so!

    Shojin summed up beautifully the difference between fun and pleasure. "And right now I'm watching children chase a chicken round the chicken coop."

    Shojin and the children are experiencing different feelings - he's taking pleasure at the joy of his children and they're having fun chasing the chicken. (The chicken's feelings go unreported!)

    We all know that Zen is often like Shojin's experience. Assuming, to simplify the argument, a mechanical rather than a sentient chicken, my question is whether Zen can also be like the children's experience.

  9. I think Shojin answered your question quite succinctly “They (children) are masters of fun, until they get older and have more ideas about what is fun and what isn’t fun.” This discussion is a perfect example of adults having ideas about what is fun and what isn’t fun.

    Being in the moment is Zen, if we are having fun in the moment then Zen is fun. If we are not having fun in the moment, then Zen is not fun. To ask if Zen is fun is to ask if being in the moment is fun.

    If you ask the kids chasing the chickens if they are having fun they would say yes. If you asked Shojin if he was having fun watching the kids chase chickens, he would also say yes.

    Only picking and choosing makes one having fun and the other not.

  10. I know a Theravadin monk, Ajahn Thanuttaro, who always has a smile in his face. Every now and then, he will snigger in a very particular way, even if nothing is going on around him.

    A friend told me once that, during sitting meidtation at a retreat, he burst into a loud laughter. Afterwards, he said "If your minds were like mine, you would be laughing too!".

    That man finds fun in life, and I found him very funny. But he practices Theravada, not Zen. And if that matters, then it's even funnier.

  11. Nice one, Pablo. I'd like to meet this guy!

    Miles, you said, "Only picking and choosing makes one having fun and the other not. " Clearly you are right. This is true.

    However, picking and choosing can be helpful at times. It is only picking and choosing that makes me label the branch of a tree "wood" and the fruit hanging from that branch, "an apple" - but if I offer you an apple you want to be sure I'm picking and choosing in the way most people mean!

  12. A bull crashes through a window. Its head, body and legs come crashing through, but not its tail. Why?

    Dharmabrother Kaishin and I have been recently bull-fighting with this bull. In the end it seems to me the bull was smarter than us: it tramped my feet and bit Kaishin's teeth.

    Anyway, Kaishin's question triggered something about the bull. The question came through like the animal, demanding attention, smashing everything around and was desperately looking around for a piece of red cloth. I couldn't find it, so I had to face the bull with my bare hands. Then I realized that its tail didn't come through the window. I looked at it for a while, amazed at that it couldn't follow the rest of the bull's body, as big and, full of energy and strong as it was.

    This is what I saw:

    At its very base, there where the body ends and the tail begins the tail was: I only teach dukkha and the end of dukkha and there I immediately understood why the bull could't come through, and never will. Although there was no need of looking anymore, I did it anyway, and I saw among many other things this:

    there are four courses of action: 1.-the course of action that is unpleasant to do and leads to what is unprofitable. 2.-the course of action that is unpleasant to do but leads to what is profitable. 3.-the course of action that is pleasant to do but leads to what is unprofitable. 4.-the course of action that is pleasant to do and leads to what is profitable.

    and something like this, that we should reflect on our past, present and future actions and find out if they are conducive to happiness, liberation, nirvana or to affliction, and then be able to perform those actions conducive to happiness and abandon those actions conducive to affliction.

    At the end of the bull's tail, there where it turns into a brush, the dream of every student of zen, each hair spoke by itself with such a strength, that one could say they were each a bull bursting through windows (maybe their tails not coming through?). One was a vast, bright empty field, not needing to say anything; other was the man of no rank; there was also This mind is the Buddha & No mind, no buddha and yet cast off body and mind, open your hands and walk inocently and at the top of the 100m pole give a forward step.

    Now, who can face these bulls without a piece of red cloth?
    (I hope you are enjoying yourselves. If not, please, have a look at your back's end)

  13. Thanks for the reminder, David - "I only teach dukkha and the end of dukkha."

    I guess my question doesn't fit the case!

  14. Hi David,

    I like to remember the real function of a bull's tail: It stays behind to keep the flies off an asshole!

    ...Some of these koan inventors had, I think, a slightly twisted idea of fun.



  15. Kaishin, there's nothing wrong with the question. You know, there is no bull.

    Harry: "I like to remember the real function of a bull's tail: It stays behind to keep the flies off an asshole!".

    You're right, that's why I said it is the dream of every student of zen


  16. Hi Pablo,

    Re laughing to ourselves. You might find this article interesting... and/or scary!


    Ha ha ha ha... harry.

  17. Thank you for the article, Harry.

    I once read that the only difference between a madman and an arahant was that, although both of them are laughing, only the arahant knows why he's doing it.

  18. It sure is a lot of fun or else no one would be doing may not be fun in traditional sense but it gives out something so addictive, no wonder people get hooked on to it..:)