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Saturday, January 22, 2011


... yet another entry from my Ms The ABC of Neo-feudalism ...


Zen Buddhism, as Buddhism in general, originated in Asian feudal societies and was transmitted within feudal Asian societies, predominantly India and China. When Zen reached the Western shores via Dadaism in Europe and later via the beat and hippy movements in the USA, it was mainly an expression of anti-establishment mysticism or as an anti-authoritarian way of life, and as a reaction against the crass consumerism of 20th century capitalism – and finally turning into exactly that (see shopping cart link above). At the time few commentators asked how Zen could have functioned in a feudal society where absolute power rested with absolute rulers. Presumably Zen took up the role of court jester, testing and teasing the lords and ladies who otherwise would have been bored with their subjects’ unquestioning loyalty and obedience. As such, Zen features many a koan (story) that dwells on just that:

Emperor Wu took an interest in Buddhism and spent a great deal of public wealth on funding Buddhist monasteries in China. When he had heard that a great Buddhist teacher, Bodhidharma, had come to China, he sought an audience with him. When they met, Emperor Wu had asked how much karmic merit he had gained from his noble support of Buddhism. Bodhidharma replied, "None at all." The Emperor asked, "Then what is the truth of the teachings?" Bodhidharma replied, "Vast emptiness, nothing holy." So the emperor asked, "Then who are you standing in front of me?" Bodhidharma replied, "I do not know," and walked out.
In typical fashion of subverting anti-establishment movements under Western capitalism, the initial popularity of Zen as a counter-culture tool was quickly turned into a cash cow, first unwittingly perhaps via authors like Keruac and Pirsig, and then via all manner of commercial products, e.g. Zen perfume (see advertisement above), Zen retreats, Zen leadership seminars, Zen watches, The Beginner's Guide to Zen Buddhism, et ad nauseam. Within a short time we were back to square one, namely to Zen Buddhism as a vulgar religion as practiced mainly in capitalist Japan.

Under neo-feudalism we can look forward to a return to Zen as the needle that pricks the voodoo dolls and entertains the power elites with ironic tales of nonconformity. Bodhidharma’s neo-feudal successor may well end up as a sort of neo-Jesuit who counsels the Eurasian oligarchs of the need to build elaborate Zen gardens and commission fantastic paintings that attest to the fact that nothing is impossible - or rather ‘impossible is nothing’ as the logo adopted by the sports corporation Adidas.

Indeed I hereby lay claim to a partial succession in that I was given - by a Buddhist nun - a Bodhi leaf from the Maha Bodhi Tree in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, and the nun proclaiming, I think, that I was a Bodhisattva. Considering that I considered myself a bit of a Zen Buddhist at the time, I was naturally blown over. In true Zen fashion I pressed the leaf and put it into a little picture frame - and eventually lost it during one of my many moves from A to B. These then are my two koan for you to mediate upon the coming of neo-feudalism:

Nothing is possible (I am more than willing to sell the trade-mark of ‘possible is nothing’ to the Adidas’ brotherly competitor Puma).
When President Obama heard of a Bodhisattva by the name of Wolf, he invited him to a secret meeting at the White House. ‘How then’ he asked the Bodhisattva ‘can we make the world a better place?’ ‘By putting yourself into jail’ he said in awkward English and according to his Master, Noam Chomsky. The President laughed heartily and thanked the Bodhisattva for his time. The latter was never seen again.

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