Because I am a Zen Buddhist and a socialist, many people assume I am a humanist, as they think Buddhism and socialism are both humanist. I think the opposite. The Buddhist understanding of interdependence precludes the arrogant view that is human exceptionalism. And if socialism is only for humans then it is not socialism, because it is still class-based, with bosses and bossed, exploiters and exploited.
Although I have criticisms of the book, I like the subtitle of Timothy Morton’s Humankind: Solidarity With Non-Human People. We need to see not just all clearly-sentient beings as people, but also rocks, walls, pens, machines, as people.
This evening I reread Sam Hamill’s poem The Orchid Flower. I corresponded with him for years, though we never met. He is among the people who have died whom I cannot bring myself to delete from my email contacts, for reasons I do not understand. When he died in 2018, I wrote this poem:
I wonder if what those who make Zen our lifelong practice have in common is that when we are young we experience what John Tarrant Roshi describes in his book Bring Me the Rhinoceros: “None of the usual solutions to life that were on offer meant much to me.”
In Zen practice, meditation is usually referred to as “sitting.” Some of us think we are unusual because of our practice, but we are not. Everybody sits, but most people do their sitting in front of a TV. We can either sit to distract ourselves from life, or we can sit with, and in, life.
“Medicine and sickness heal each other. The whole world is medicine.” — The Blue Cliff Record, Case 87
There is a parable that is fitting for these times. I do not know its origin — I have heard different versions, some attributing it to the Zen or Taoist traditions, but I have not been able to find its source, and I do not think it matters. Here is the version I am thinking of:
Most Zen monks in the west only wear their robes for ceremonial purposes. But I have found that when I am on my way to or from the zendo and wearing my robes, strangers in the street will approach me, wanting to talk. It is not usually that they are interested in Buddhism, it is that they are lonely and feel isolated and need someone to talk to, and the robes give them an invitation, or maybe just an excuse, an icebreaker.