Monthly Archives: August 2018

Jordan Peterson on Derrida and Cultural Marxism


Jordan Peterson on Derrida and Cultural Marxism

[pp. 187-9 in Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules]

Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx

These disciplines draw their philosophy from multiple sources. All are heavily influenced by the Marxist humanists. One such figure is Max Horkheimer, who developed critical theory in the 1930s. Any brief summary of his ideas is bound to be oversimplified, but Horkheimer regarded himself as a Marxist. He believed that Western principles of individual freedom or the free market were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequality, domination and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding, and hoped to emancipate humanity from its enslavement. Horkheimer and his Frankfurt School of associated thinkers—first, in Germany and later, in the US—aimed at a full-scale critique and transformation of Western civilization.

More important in recent years has been the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, leader of the postmodernists, who came into vogue in the late 1970s. Derrida described his own ideas as a radicalized form of Marxism. Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions more were subject to oppression rivalling that still operative in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. The resulting economic systems were corrupt and unsustainable. The world entered a prolonged and extremely dangerous cold war. The citizens of those societies lived the life of the lie, betraying their families, informing on their neighbours—existing in misery, without complaint (or else).

Marxist ideas were very attractive to intellectual utopians. One of the primary architects of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, received a doctorate at the Sorbonne before he became the nominal head of Cambodia in the mid-1970s. In his doctoral thesis, written in 1959, he argued that the work done by non-farmers in Cambodia’s cities was unproductive: bankers, bureaucrats and businessmen added nothing to society. Instead, they parasitized the genuine value produced through agriculture, small industry and craft. Samphan’s ideas were favourably looked upon by the French intellectuals who granted him his Ph.D. Back in Cambodia, he was provided with the opportunity to put his theories into practice. The Khmer Rouge evacuated Cambodia’s cities, drove all the inhabitants into the countryside, closed the banks, banned the use of currency, and destroyed all the markets. A quarter of the Cambodian population were worked to death in the countryside, in the killing fields.

Lest We Forget: Ideas Have Consequences.

When the communists established the Soviet Union after the First World War, people could be forgiven for hoping that the utopian collectivist dreams their new leaders purveyed were possible. The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughters of the Great War. The gap between rich and poor was extreme, and most people slaved away in conditions worse than those later described by Orwell. Although the West received word of the horror perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. Russia was in postmonarchical chaos, and the news of widespread industrial development and redistribution of property to those who had so recently been serfs provided reason for hope. To complicate things further, the USSR (and Mexico) supported the democratic Republicans when the Spanish Civil War broke out, in 1936. They were fighting against the essentially fascist Nationalists, who had overthrown the fragile democracy established only five years previously, and who found support with the Nazis and Italian fascists.

The intelligentsia in America, Great Britain and elsewhere were severely frustrated by their home countries’ neutrality. Thousands of foreigners streamed into Spain to fight for the Republicans, serving in the International Brigades. George Orwell was one of them. Ernest Hemingway served there as a journalist, and was a supporter of the Republicans. Politically concerned young Americans, Canadians and Brits felt a moral obligation to stop talking and start fighting.

All of this drew attention away from concurrent events in the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Stalinist Soviets sent two million kulaks, their richest peasants, to Siberia (those with a small number of cows, a couple of hired hands, or a few acres more than was typical). From the communist viewpoint, these kulaks had gathered their wealth by plundering those around them, and deserved their fate. Wealth signified oppression, and private property was theft. It was time for some equity. More than thirty thousand kulaks were shot on the spot. Many more met their fate at the hands of their most jealous, resentful and unproductive neighbours, who used the high ideals of communist collectivization to mask their murderous intent.

The kulaks were “enemies of the people,” apes, scum, vermin, filth and swine. “We will make soap out of the kulak,” claimed one particularly brutal cadre of city-dwellers, mobilized by party and Soviet executive committees, and sent out into the countryside. The kulaks were driven, naked, into the streets, beaten, and forced to dig their own graves. The women were raped. Their belongings were “expropriated,” which, in practice, meant that their houses were stripped down to the rafters and ceiling beams and everything was stolen. In many places, the non-kulak peasants resisted, particularly the women, who took to surrounding the persecuted families with their bodies. Such resistance proved futile. The kulaks who didn’t die were exiled to Siberia, often in the middle of the night. The trains started in February, in the bitter Russian cold. Housing of the most substandard kind awaited them upon arrival on the desert taiga. Many died, particularly children, from typhoid, measles and scarlet fever.

The “parasitical” kulaks were, in general, the most skilful and hardworking farmers. A small minority of people are responsible for most of the production in any field, and farming proved no different. Agricultural output crashed. What little remained was taken by force out of the countryside and into the cities. Rural people who went out into the fields after the harvest to glean single grains of wheat for their hungry families risked execution. Six million people died of starvation in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, in the 1930s. “To eat your own children is a barbarian act,” declared posters of the Soviet regime.

Despite more than mere rumours of such atrocities, attitudes towards communism remained consistently positive among many Western intellectuals. There were other things to worry about, and the Second World War allied the Soviet Union with the Western countries opposing Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Certain watchful eyes remained open, nonetheless. Malcolm Muggeridge published a series of articles describing

Soviet demolition of the peasantry as early as 1933, for the Manchester Guardian. George Orwell understood what was going on under Stalin, and he made it widely known. He published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release. Many who should have known better retained their blindness for long after this. Nowhere was this truer than France, and nowhere truer in France than among the intellectuals.

France’s most famous mid-century philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a well-known communist, although not a card-carrier, until he denounced the Soviet incursion into Hungary in 1956. He remained an advocate for Marxism, nonetheless, and did not finally break with the Soviet Union until 1968, when the Soviets violently suppressed the Czechoslovakians during the Prague Spring.

Not long after came the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which we have discussed rather extensively in previous chapters. As noted (and is worth noting again), this book utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility—first in the West, and then in the Soviet System itself. It circulated in underground samizdat format. Russians had twenty-four hours to read their rare copy before handing it to the next waiting mind. A Russian-language reading was broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty.

Solzhenitsyn argued that the Soviet system could have never survived without tyranny and slave labour; that the seeds of its worst excesses were definitively sowed in the time of Lenin (for whom the Western communists still served as apologists); and that it was propped up by endless lies, both individual and public. Its sins could not be blamed on a simple cult of personality, as its supporters continued to claim. Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago—not even the communists themselves.

This did not mean that the fascination Marxist ideas had for intellectuals—particularly French intellectuals—disappeared. It merely transformed. Some refused outright to learn. Sartre denounced Solzhenitsyn as a “dangerous element.” Derrida, more subtle, substituted the idea of power for the idea of money, and continued on his merry way. Such linguistic sleight-of-hand gave all the barely repentant Marxists still inhabiting the intellectual pinnacles of the West the means to retain their world-view. Society was no longer repression of the poor by the rich. It was oppression of everyone by the powerful.

According to Derrida, hierarchical structures emerged only to include (the beneficiaries of that structure) and to exclude (everyone else, who were therefore oppressed). Even that claim wasn’t sufficiently radical. Derrida claimed that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language— built into the very categories we use to pragmatically simplify and negotiate the world. There are “women” only because men gain by excluding them. There are “males and females” only because members of that more heterogeneous group benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous. Science only benefits the scientists. Politics only benefits the politicians. In Derrida’s view, hierarchies exist because they gain from oppressing those who are omitted. It is this ill-gotten gain that allows them to flourish.

Derrida famously said (although he denied it, later): “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”—often translated as “there is nothing outside the text.” His supporters say that is a mistranslation, and that the English equivalent should have been “there is no outside-text.” It remains difficult, either way, to read the statement as saying anything other than “everything is interpretation,” and that is how Derrida’s work has generally been interpreted.

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt. It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power. Biological distinctions between men and women? Despite the existence of an overwhelming, multi-disciplinary scientific literature indicating that sex differences are powerfully influenced by biological factors, science is just another game of power, for Derrida and his post-modern Marxist acolytes, making claims to benefit those at the pinnacle of the scientific world. There are no facts. Hierarchical position and reputation as a consequence of skill and competence? All definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who benefit from them, to exclude others, and to benefit personally and selfishly.

There is sufficient truth to Derrida’s claims to account, in part, for their insidious nature. Power is a fundamental motivational force (“a,” not ”the”). People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. Likewise, the fact that we can never know everything does make all our observations and utterances dependent on taking some things into account and leaving other things out (as we discussed extensively in Rule 10). That does not justify the claim that everything is interpretation, or that categorization is just exclusion. Beware of single cause interpretations—and beware the people who purvey them.

Bill Pickard’s letters to Eric Johns 1984-1987


On the Path of Dharma:

Bill Pickard’s letters to Eric Johns 1984-1987

Eric Johns has described how he set out to discover the Buddha Way by visiting Bill Pickard at Mousehole in Cornwall where there was a small group living under his instruction in Soto Zen. During the subsequent years of Eric’s training as a monk (Sik Hin Lic) in Hong Kong, Korea and Japan, Bill sustained a flow of letters to him, acting very much as an older spiritual counsellor to a young man on the way. In many ways his letters recall the spiritual counselling offered to a young priest in ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ written by an unknown spiritual director in the Middle Ages in England. Eric showed me these letters suggesting that they could be the basis for an article in NCF and to this Bill readily agreed. I have edited the letters to bring out teachings that will be useful for all who travel the way, whether monk, nun or lay person. The letters are very warm in tone and must have been a great support to Eric who was usually the only Westerner in his monasteries. I have removed the more personal comment, discussions of Masters and acquaintances, and matters extraneous to the issue in hand. Bill wrote on small blue letter forms in a neat spidery writing and had to pack a great deal into limited space. The admirable condensation of his views under this strict discipline gives us all some very pointed directions in our quest for understanding Chan. Ed. [Edited by John Crook]

5 April 1984

I will try and give you some hints on how to use the huatou(1) in meditation. It is not easy or simple; after all, like all Zen training, it is mostly a question of what you shouldn’t do! Of course you will have read Hsu yun’s remarks on its use in Charles Luk’s books, so you will understand that a huatou signifies the state of mind before a thought has started: so it is the state of mind one is in when one’s thoughts, inner chatter, picture making, dreaming in zazen have stopped.

What I do is to start by following my breath till the mind stops producing any pictures or thoughts; even the awareness of the actual movement of the breath has faded from consciousness, so there is only an awareness of emptiness. At this point you must remember that this also means you must not continue ‘looking’ for something called a ‘huatou’ either; for your thought of the huatou is now also a barrier, a hindrance! But still you may feel a sense of doubt at this point. This is natural. If any idea or thought, or perhaps even some kind of vision, comes into your mind you must take no notice; but the moment you realise that you are aware of it, bring your pointed concentration back to that mental stillness. At first you will not be able to hold this for even a second; but if you keep on with determination, these seconds of mental stillness will increase.

So the huatou is really another name for what I have usually called… the ‘zazen mind’. Don’t worry about the Great Doubt; that is the mental state we are all naturally in before we realise that all our words, thoughts about meanings, mental pictures etc. are themselves this doubt. When we know that we cannot know, the doubt slips away.

Don’t get impatient with yourself. Don’t think about progress. Simply keep on bringing your attention back in zazen to that state of mind when you have no mental activity going on. Once you can experience the ‘feel’ of this one-pointed concentration you will find it easier to get back to it. Simply to become the breath, in and out, no other thought, idea, mental picture in your field of consciousness at all, is for me the quickest way to the huatou state.

There are various levels of consciousness that you will become aware of; but to all of them you must pay no attention. Don’t expect things to happen. Drop, and keep on dropping, everything that comes into your mind. Return always to the ‘feel’ of your breath, till that moment comes when you will really know that there is nothing to ‘know’ with your mind. You have all that you need just as you are.

5 May 1984

You must be guided very much by your intuition as to the rightness, for you, of the teaching and the teacher you decide to follow. He must feel right for you. If he is a real teacher and he knows your potential, and knows he is right for you, he will accept you. But if he does not, it may well be because he can see you must go to someone else. Teachers who appear to accept everyone, and Eastern teachers who accept every Westerner, are often more concerned with the so-called prestige a Western pupil is supposed to bring them. Simply prepare yourself so that you are ready when the right teacher is available: when the pupil is ready the teacher appears.

15 May 1984

From my own practice I know it is good advice to cut out reading when really engaged in intense meditation; and what reading you do needs to be selective, probably only Sutras, and probably again only one or two of those: the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra and the Surangama to help with psychological problems. Once you can communicate with your teacher you must be guided entirely by him; while always remembering that even Shakyamuni tells us we must not take even his words as correct for us till we have experienced the truth for which the words stand. This is why we must have total trust in our master.

After you have been meditating rigorously for long hours, for many days, you will no doubt enter a stage where you will probably be filled with doubts, you will feel stale, everything becomes cloudy, you may even think you are in the wrong place or have the wrong teacher. This is the testing time. Everyone goes though this stage at some time. You may feel depressed, homesick, lonely. It is not something peculiar to you and your situation. I reached a point where I nearly killed myself; but I was alone and had no teacher.

30 May 1984

Do you still have the huatou in the pit of the stomach, the ‘Who?’ as your whole field of consciousness, turning the mind inwards? What is the state before even the ‘Who?’ is asked? Where does that ‘Who?’ come from? When the doubts or questions fill your whole content of consciousness, there will come a moment when everything stops; hindering thoughts stop, and there is only a stillness, you are one with the question. This is no longer your usual consciousness. You and ‘Who?’ are one. There is no sensation of body, no consciousness ‘of’ anything. And of course this is the state of mind before a thought arises; in other words it is the huatou. It can be endless space, a brightness, a kind of great joy, it turns the world upside down. There is nothing you can say profitably about it, but you know it.

26 June 1984

Every situation, at that moment, is perfect for our practice; just as every sense intrusion such as pain, noises, mental creations, are subjects for meditation. All we have to do is drop all the hindrances, preconceptions and attachments.

You will find you will never come to the end of doubts. But doubts are the driving force that set you on your path, and that will keep you on it. As you deepen your meditation you will find that your sense of doubt becomes more subtle; it will be seen to be less about external concrete concepts, opinions, situations and much more to do with moral attitudes, a sense in which nothing can be distinguished or be said to exist apart from anything else. Doubts never end but in the end become of themselves also void; these are the doubts not subject to answers. Having to examine doubts (in order to answer others) clears the ground of our minds, so we can be free of clutter; or at least some of it. The subtle doubts are of a different kind.

You are right about robes being powerful; but don’t forget they can also become a barrier, a hindrance, if we live behind them. They focus attention on us; they can make us feel special. The fact people expect a special kind of wise answer from you will show you this. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you really have what others may expect. Answer always from your heart, from the truth you know for yourself. Remember in the end the real question, which is also the real doubt, can only be answered by silence. The Buddha showed us that. Just because one may be wearing robes, be he Easterner or Westerner, does not mean he has travelled very far on the spiritual path. A real teacher will be hard to find because in the end he will only be found within! That is hard to accept but the Buddha also told us that.

I think it will be wise to discuss your meditation less with other monks and only with your teacher. Others may not understand, conversation can be confusing and raise expectations both for you and them.

22 July 1984

Ah! I know how you felt, and I am so very happy for you. Of course one is beside, or outside oneself at first, or simply with no self. It’s wonderful, so obvious, and quite impossible to put into words. And of course one has to calm down after a while. But no matter; now you know it’s just this, your view of things will never be the same again. Your real training starts here. I share your joy.

Now you will find deeper meanings in the Sutras. You have the answer and no one has anything to ‘give’ you. The need to keep rushing about the world simply ceases. Yet the need to go on deepening your insight never stops; for all is instant change and flux, including what you are, how you are, the situations around you. Life is constant practice. Every moment is new and pregnant with possible births.

Your old friend still has a suggestion to make. Forget the first experience and do not expect the next insight to be as big. Each moment is just it. There must be no smell of Zen, and that only happens when you are unaware that ‘just this’, be it a deep insight that lifts your heart filling it with a love for all things, or the dreary drudgery of occupations you don’t like, is all one. You must learn to hide your discovery; don’t let even a hint be known, or that subtle poison, spiritual pride, creeps in. Even present joy must be let go. Nothing very important has happened. Be happy, be sad, with all your might; the next moment is new.

One does each thing as new because one has to do it. Nothing special. One does zazen not knowing, one sits because it is the next thing. That is Zen samadhi. All the multiplicity of the flux of the Universe is the One, and that’s also the present moment, writing this, reading this. Nothing special. Wonderful! No stink of Zen. Nothing holy. You are a Bodhisattva and have all the beings (who do not exist!) as numerous as the sands of the Ganges to save. Keep on doing this and never give it a thought. That is how we pay the debt of gratitude. It flows from the heart and we don’t know it with the head at all.

19 September 1984

With regards to our Bodhisattva vows: if from the first not a thing is, who takes the vows or precepts and what beings are there to be saved? The idea that there is a ‘you’ who will take these vows; that at a ceremony these precepts of a Bodhisattva will be ‘given’ to you; that then you will for all time try and ‘keep’ them, is simply a simplistic view of the meaning. There are no beings to be saved, and nothing that is a Bodhisattva, for all is One. Form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form: this is true of everything. But still, as the very emptiness is also form, so, though no such being called a Bodhisattva can even hold an idea of saving any beings, that ‘no- person’ must, by his whole way of life and attitude, create around himself the atmosphere where such ‘no-beings’ can wake up and realise that which is! So, in a dualistic sense, which is no-sense, beings can be saved. Ask “Who is there to be a Bodhisattva?” Truth is beyond words but there is an insight that will, moment by living moment, infuse your presence with the atmosphere that will help all (no-) beings. Even the summit of human aspiration is a concept; but we can all try by great attention to live in compassion for all beings. We are what we think. Yet who holds these views?

24 October 1984

I’m delighted to learn that you have had the ordination… even if it was a rather more noisy ceremony than you had anticipated. The only important part is what took place within you. The rest is froth and will settle…

The inner truth and insight of your meditation is all that matters. You have committed yourself to a great adventure that never ends. That is the transmission and each time you enter into samadhi in meditation this transmission takes place. The Bodhisattva is one who is living in a state of constant transmission, for the Buddha nature naturally flows through his every act. Nothing is self centred…

You may often find the tears flowing or you may see visions or get some ‘Chan disease’ manifestations. This is why it is such a help to have a Chan master, quite apart from the ‘presence’ that a right teacher can give your practice.

I am now 70 years old and have followed the way since I was 16 and each day is new and there’s still no goal in sight.

24 November 1984

As you have asked me, I’ll give you a few details of my early stages on the path. Like you I first became aware of the Dharma through reading a book when I was 13 or 14; it was as if I somehow had known about it all the time. I seemed to remember it. Then one day, I suddenly had the experience of my body and everything around me simply dissolving into a brilliant space that had no limitations and I realised that somehow I was not really separate or apart from anything. But I knew nothing of training or meditation nor that there were different paths to follow. I only read books on Buddhism and the vision got dim.

Then, during the war in Burma I was wounded and got malaria and was sent up into the Himalayas to a rest camp where it was my karma to go and stay with some English Buddhists who introduced me to my first master. He was a Chinese lama who was meditation teacher in a local Tibetan monastery; but was also a disciple of the Venerable Chan Master Hsu yun who was at that time still alive in China. He gave me the Precepts and introduced me to Chan meditation and for a month I had the privilege of sitting every day (night) with him. Later, through him, I was put in touch with Charles Luk.

On my return to England I became a hermit for two years, living in a tent on the cliffs here in Cornwall. After another experience of dropping body and mind and going through a difficult time because I could not have the guidance of my old teacher (who had said I must find my own path on my own), I discovered how kind he had been.

One day a Japanese lay brother came to visit because of a dream, and, through this, a Zen Roshi eventually came to England and I was ordained and given transmission in to the Soto sect of Dogen. Yet I have always lived as a layman and do not wear robes. I also sat for a while with the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa who also had my Chan lama Linchen(2) as his meditation teacher when he was a young monk. My ordination name was Myozen Daizui.

1 January 1985

You are right: deep concentration brings about many physical as well as mental changes. These are quite natural and there is nothing either special or ‘holy’ about them… As I think you realise, these various manifestations of auras, lights, demons and Buddhas are all fairly common. They are all projections from your own subconscious, or in some cases a kind of telepathic or joint sharing of the hallucination of someone else.

In meditation, when you have reached the state of really stilling the stream of thought and images, that reservoir of memory of which we are not normally aware seems to throw up these phantoms. It is the same place as that from where our dreams come in sleep. Sometimes they can seem to take on a life of their own and can be frightening; they won’t go away. They won’t go away because secretly the more egotistical surface consciousness becomes fascinated. This is certainly the case when hallucinations seem to suggest we are being favoured, for instance when it is a holy image, such as the Buddha or a ‘divine being’, who comes and seems to suggest we’re making great progress.

So take no notice of any such manifestations. They are all illusions, projections of your own mind however ‘objective’ they may appear. This also goes for ‘lights’, ‘voices’, ‘scents’ as well. What they do show however is that your meditation is maturing… but don’t ‘stick’ at this point. Many ‘mystics’ have done so.

A few suggestions now about this sense of evil, of being possessed by an evil power that apparently came from what should have been ‘good’, that is a Buddha statue. You are quite likely to experience a number of such paradoxical transformations of right and wrong, good and bad, light and dark. They will take many forms. Remember, all these concepts, values, judgements are within; they are all attributes of the self and must be seen for what they are. Remember that even the concept of ‘Buddha’ must be seen for what it is, a concept, idea, created by minds and so it is for all values. Precepts must become actualised, we must become living embodiments of them, Bodhisattvas who are not even conscious of being Bodhisattvas, otherwise we are not Bodhisattvas. In Zen we are told to ‘kill’ even the Buddha: that is we must not hold to the concept of Buddha as being other than what we are.

I have the feeling that you are still objectifying some of the experiences that you have or which arise in your meditation states. I mean that you are placing outside of yourself a kind of power, the ‘power of your vows’, or even your ‘wish to teach Buddhism to others’. You are still giving off the smell of ego, of pride, even if in a subtle way. Who has this ‘power of your vows’? Who wishes to teach Buddhism for the ‘good of others’? All powers, all demons, all energies, are in a sense the natural manifestation of the flux we call reality; but when they pass through our senses and are filtered through our brains and become ‘real’ in consciousness, they appear to be apart, or outside, or other than we are. You should have no problems if you still your mind and return always to ‘Who is it?’ who experiences whatever it be – demon or Buddha.

You must always start from where you are and from who you are. You will always be who you are. We are all the result of our past karma; this cannot be altered so far as the past is concerned. It just is. Yet this very moment, this place, is where change also occurs. In this constant flux of the eternal present there is also change. Yet, even in all the apparent movement, our very self is the mental habit of moment by moment creating this illusion of an ongoing apparently permanent entity or being. All is one void, process, energy and at the same time quite beyond all our concepts of the mind. We will never know or understand, though we will experience.

I think, secretly, you are a little proud of what your ‘self’ or ego has achieved: it’s all been mind blowing of course. But now your real inner journey must get underway. No doubt there will be many slips and the possible help of an English speaking teacher will help at such moments. If you trust your intuition and watch the tricks of the self you will have all you need.

I think you must bow in gratitude to your master Sik Sing Yat who, although he may not be Lin-chi (What vanity to tell him what he should have done!), seems to have guarded you well. Yes, I know the country you are passing through but what are dreams to trouble the incredible perfection and beauty of this moment. The best mantra is always the one eternal question ‘Who?’ The answer is no answer but only the experience of ‘Who?’… The only demon is within; that persistent little self. It fights to the end yet it is an illusion.

At your stage I don’t think learning mantras is anything but a diversion. After all, your master told you not to play around with such antics. I rather feel you are showing too much interest in your mind’s tricks. Yes, I also had my demons and not all are gone yet. Practice never ends. There is always a further mountain to climb. That’s what it is all about.

I am sure you have been very impatient at times. We all experience this. It is of course yet another manifestation of pride, isn’t it? I wonder why we make what is simple so very difficult?… I think you are at the point where you’ll find the answers that are in the Heart Sutra within you. You know you are ripe for experience and I wouldn’t read anything unless it is the Heart Sutra… in any case more a meditation than a reading. Please bow to Sik Sing Yat for me. I think your gratitude to him will increase with time.

1 March 1985

It sounds as if you are wise not to get mixed up with Westerners who are at popular temples in Japan. I think that since Zen became popular in the 60s and 70s the more comfortable Zen temples have become overrun with Westerners seeking quick and easy ‘answers’. I am sure the serious monks and teachers must find them a problem at times. There will no doubt be many that are neurotic or very disturbed.

You obviously now understand that all the exciting ‘states’, ‘visions’ and other experiences that you had last year were stages of no consequence except that they showed your powers of concentration to be getting stronger. Do not become attached to their fascination or feel that you are somehow special or important because of them. There is no special ‘god’ handing them out to you, they are produced simply by your own effort in zazen. And all that business with the finger burning! Your wise teacher Sing Yat knew there was a lot of pride and vanity in that affair but worth it in the end for what you learnt. Some of us have to travel a stony path as we are so full of ego.

Soon you will find that there is only emptiness, both inside and outside; that you require no outside guide. At each moment and in each situation you will know how to respond adequately. Gradually you will realise that you are increasingly in an empty state, you will be aware of the working of your mind and the objects of your thoughts as somehow floating in space. Inside and outside are the same in the process. There is nothing static, fixed, with a separate reality. You will find yourself increasingly in the present moment fully and your past thoughts and deeds will lessen their grip on your habits. As Sing Yat said, “the real work is to forget the self, so one can benefit others”. Others and self are one. The only disturbance is within.

14 November 1985

This rude, unhelpful, uninterested in Westerners, Zen master (of whom you write) sounds interesting. What reputation has he among the Koreans? No master can give you anything, except perhaps a little encouragement and a push now and then. I cannot know but perhaps he is a master from whom you have things to learn. Sometimes the nice, friendly, apparently helpful, master is not what we need. It becomes comfortable, safe, predictable. Maybe he is uninterested in Westerners because he doesn’t consider they are there with enough inner commitment. If it is a question of life and death, then even the question of the master’s attitude must be dropped. So it’s not what he can give you or do for you, but what you can realise in yourself. If you think he’s unhelpful it’s surely because you expect him to be helpful; in other words give you something – help! You are well on the way; you have the tools; it’s up to you. It’s right there in front of you, whatever the circumstances. I know you can do it. Hard slog yes; polishing the mirror yes; till you realise there’s not even a mirror.

Zazen is the gate. Nothing else matters. Just where you are is the place. Now is eternally the right and only moment. It’s a question of life and death; your head is in the pail of water and all you want is air, nothing else will do. I know you have the strength. All your battles are with yourself; only you can conquer and win through. You have it all. Who are you?

? June 1986

I’ve been in Nepal for a month. Managed to step into Tibet, but things are not too happy there; though better than they were. Met one or two interesting Tibetans. It all helps to knock off the tough corners of one’s ego box. Travelling in the Himalayas was the real testing. I needed to return to the high mountains again. Just to trek in such places, camping away from western life and conditions, living with the Sherpas, tough simple people, was a tonic. In many ways reluctant to return; but my karma is here, I know.

Had a dream about you; partly why I felt this was the moment to write. You’ll probably understand what it means. I see you climbing steep rocky steps to a building on top of a high hill; could be a temple on the top, a Chinese temple. You’re struggling to climb the steps because you are holding a goat and a tiger by two long ropes, and they are pulling back down the hill. You do not seem to want either of these animals, but you say you cannot leave them. Perhaps you can interpret this? I awoke somehow expecting to have news of you. The Bodhisattva’s great delusion is that knowing all are Buddhas, he still goes around trying to help everyone realise that. Look after yourself.

30 August 1986

Your letter… has broken the long silence; for I had been wondering how you were getting on; or had you perhaps vanished into China, lost to our world? I can see you’ve been discovering many things. This is the perennial wonder and beauty of the path; that it is ever changing and will not end; certainly not in this life or on this earth.

I can feel in your letter, as much as in what you say, that inner certainty that comes with the true inner vision that deep zazen brings: seeing and experiencing the total ultimate emptiness of what we call ‘self’; the total oneness of what we call reality. As you now realise for yourself nothing can ever be the same again. This insight, the total oneness and its paradoxical constant flux and change, must now become what you are; it’s not something ‘you’ have somehow become; it’s what you have always been!

Yet, equally, as there’s no static, ultimate thing we can call ‘you’ to be, this has to be realised or woken up to moment by moment. In this sense, none of us ever achieve enlightenment; but enlightenment is when all our illusions (our wrong views) are dropped. We all struggle so hard just to be.

Yes, sex and drink and fasting simply are; not good or bad, but facts or aspects of reality, of the flux of existence: but how and when and how much they are experienced is what must concern us. Are they at this particular moment in time either conducive or a hindrance to our waking up? There is no value in a load of guilt; that can be not only another hindrance but actually an indulgence. So we make a mistake and indulge overmuch; greed of one kind or another overcomes us, we see this, acknowledge it to ourselves, and then, endeavouring not to break this particular precept again, we carry on into the next moment of this flux of time. If karmic harm has been created then we must expect to pay. Beyond this make no big deal out of it. We will all fail sometime.

Do not think too much about ‘progress’ in meditation; if there is real meditation, where is the ‘you’ who can consider it greater or less improved since the last time? The ‘progress’ comes when you are no longer apart from the process; when you don’t even consider it something that is being done by ‘you’. It is as natural and as inevitable as your next breath. The less of ‘you’ there is in your meditation, the more ‘result’ others will probably see in you; but ‘you’ won’t know it!

I see you have arrived at the difficulty of living the meditation mind state from moment to moment: but you’ve stated the answer; no discriminating mind but complete attention to each moment, mind state, and action resulting from it. It becomes more and more subtle, always requiring awareness and vigilance. Much of the change that comes with the life practice is in the character. Without knowing it your perception and awareness become more acute. The practice will never end, though your intuition will gradually disclose to you a different dimension within which you experience it: the third eye is open.

6 December 1986

Even if you found your situation [on a Korean sesshin] rather chaotic at times with much switching around and even arguments, how good it must have been for your practice. That’s the beauty of the way; all situations are the right and perfect way and place and time for practice. Just where you are, as it is, can be the right place. In fact there can be no other for it is where you are.

Tho’ you know the silent place in your meditation you have by constant mindfulness to actualise it in your total being. The inner nature that you are, beyond the conditioning of your character, has to become the living, moment by moment, you that you potentially are. Remember the way is a constant progression with no goal. We shall never achieve or reach an end in our journey but must always be in a state of practice. By constant practice we slowly become more aware; if only more aware that we all have a long journey ahead. Even our Lord Buddha practised till his last meditation.

If you check your actions and thoughts with reference to the Precepts the fruits of what you do will be right for all situations. The precepts, the ethical concepts given us by our teachers, are our staff for the journey. By such constant reference we all have the guidance and the map of the way.

2 February 1987

The enemy within us is the habits we have accumulated both in mental baggage and as the results of our actions. The more we can develop the way of dealing with the present moment with the free and open mind that meditation shows us the less habit-controlled we will be. The practice has no end. Razor sharp awareness and vigilance is required.

You will no doubt have people suggesting all kind of attractive Buddhist projects that could use the money [you have acquired]. All of them may no doubt be worthy projects but I think you should take your time. Your idea of a retreat house is very good; but all such places require a strong purpose and well-grounded individuals (not just one or two) to really carry on and not become a bolthole for little groups of rather inadequate people. Such places need a nucleus of people with strong convictions and the practical ability to attend to the organisational side. Many fine ideas and good intentions float around but come to nothing because the people are not practical enough…

As you ask me, I would suggest that you carry on with your practice, with the teacher that seems right for you, till you feel it’s time to come back here and then let what will be right, at that time and place, grow slowly. Perhaps a small cottage where you can carry on your practice and let those who will, come to you and share your practice. Don’t fall for that ego trip, “I am a teacher, I can teach you!” Even Buddha said he could only point the way. The heart of a ‘centre’ has to be right motive.

17 July 1987

You seem to be a traveller still, for every letter comes from a different place; but I sense there’s also somehow a different person writing them. You sound as if in many ways you are slightly disillusioned with many things. Perhaps you should write more on this subject.

“Without really knowing how” you say, you are sharing an apartment with a young lady. That, I suspect, will be the cause of several aspects of karma, if it has not already been so. I am simply thinking of what you told me happened the last time you were in Japan.

I wonder why you have not attempted to find one of those few small temples where some kind of good teaching still goes on under one of four really enlightened Zen masters(3). If you can speak a little Japanese you will be in a better position than the usual Westerner. I feel that you have an opportunity to open some gateless gates in Japan. What is the weightless Buddha of Nara? Daito lived with beggars under the bridges of Kyoto for twenty years and came back into the world of Dharma and founded Daitokoji. There’s something there for you; an insight that you should be able to perceive and two strong karmic fetters that you must break. You have travelled so far, do not waste energy and time on anything less than realising the truth in you!

Why do I feel that there’s some doubt, something unresolved in your letter? Is the life of the monk really the way for you? For being a monk or not being a monk has nothing to do with passing through the gateless gate. Fighting constant inner battles to keep a lot of vows can take up a great deal of energy. The only reason for keeping vows of celibacy, like abstemiousness generally, is that otherwise we increase the fetters that blind and enslave us. Even guilt when we do not live up to our intentions becomes an extra guilt and a thief of energy; and to make that last great leap from the top of the hundred foot pole will take all you are. Everything must be sacrificed. There will be no dickering there, no bargaining with truth.

Are you intending to return to Hong Kong and Master Sik Sing Yat or has the time come to move on? There can come a time when one should seek out new aspects; test out the depth of one’s realisation in new situations, with different teachers. It is a very old tradition to do this and I suspect Sik Sing Yat may have suggested this when he first sent you off to Korea.

Another thought; don’t ever forget that realisation of the Buddha way is not different from its actualisation amid all the temptations of our everyday life. So although we may be disillusioned with weakness in ourselves and in our teachers we must still seek for that one true teacher who will be there when we are worthy. It’s then the Dharma takes root. Something is waiting for you.

Your brother in the Dharma


1 The huatou meaning ‘head of thought’ refers to the moment before a thought arises, usually a question often derived from a koan story. The method described here was much favoured by Master Hsu yun. See C. Luk, Chan and Zen Teaching, (London, Rider), First series, p 23. Also: The Secrets of Chinese Meditation, (London, Rider), 1964, p48. Master Sheng Yen often speaks of the methods of Hsu yun in his books.

2 Perhaps Rinchen (Great Jewel): the Chinese do not pronounce ‘R’s easily. Ed

3 Bill recommended Roshi Mumon of Shofukoji Temple in Kobe and Roshi Kyodo Sochu at Ryutakuji Temple near Mount Fuji.

Edited by John Crook

Jordan Peterson on the femininists and Islam


Jordan Peterson on the femininists and Islam

One of the things that I’ve really tried to puzzle out, and it’s not like I believe this. I’m just telling you about the edges of my thinking, of being…is that you have this crazy alliance between the feminists and the radical Islamist that I just do not get. It’s like the feminists, it’s like why aren’t they protesting non-stop about Saudi Arabia? It’s just completely beyond me, like I do not understand it in the least, and I wonder – I just wonder is this what the Freudian means? Is there an attraction, you know, is there an attraction that’s emerging among the female radicals for that totalitarian male dominance that they’ve chased out of the West? That’s a hell of a thing to think, but after all I am psychoanalytically minded, and I do think things like that because like I just can see no rational reason for it. The only other rational reason is that the West needs to fall and so the enemy of my enemy is our, yeah, it’s a guy… Exactly now, what is it I thought that’s wrong with “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Yes, exactly! So elements tend to vote liberal as well, so that that could be the case but I am NOT going to shake my suspicions about this unconscious balancing because as the demand for egalitarianism and the eradication of masculinity accelerates, there’s going to be a longing in the unconscious for the precise opposite for the problem of that. The more you want, the more you scream for equality, the more your unconscious is going to admire dominance. That’s how you think if you’re analytically minded. [Sorry if this isn’t 100% coherent]

In his recent book, 12 Rules…, he says, “When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.” [p. 199]