Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Zen and the Birds of Appetite

Synopsis

Merton, one of the rare Western thinkers able to feel at home in the philosophies of the East, made the wisdom of Asia available to Westerners.

Excerpt

Better to see the face than to hear the name.

ZEN SAYING

“There is nothing,” says Levi-Strauss, “which can be conceived of or understood short of the basic demands of its structure.” He is talking about primitive kinship systems, and of the key role played in them by maternal uncles. And I must admit from the outset that uncles have nothing to do with Zen; nor am I about to prove that they have. But the statement is universal. “There is nothing which can be understood short of the basic demands of its structure.” This raises a curious question: I wonder if Zen could somehow be fitted into the patterns of a structuralist anthropology? And if so, can it be “understood?” And at once one sees that the question can probably be answered by “yes” and by “no.”

In so far as Zen is part of a social and religious complex, in so far as it seems to be related to other elements of a cultural system—“yes.” In so far as Zen is Zen Buddhism, “yes.” But in that case what fits into the system is Buddhism rather than Zen. The more Zen is considered as Buddhist the more it can be grasped as an expression of man’s cultural and religious impulse. In that case Zen can be seen as having a special kind of structure with basic demands that are structural demands and therefore open to scientific investigation—and the more it can seem to have a definite character to be grasped and “understood.”

First published in Cimarron Review, (Oklahoma State University), June,
1968.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.