Socrates and Zen
Socrates View of Life to Zenism
The objective of this work, Socrates View of Life to Zenism, will be to see if the sage Socrates agrees or disagrees with the way of the Zen masters. I noticed upon completion of the book, Dan Millman's semi-auto biographical tale, 'Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives,' that I was reminded of something I saw on TV in the cable system's reruns. Although simple, I was reminded of this -- When the student is ready the teacher will come.
That mantra came from a television series about a 'half American' and 'half Chinese' Shoaling monk. The Television series was Kung Fu and although the story was a little out of date, even for a western, the star of the show, Kwi Chang Cain, whenever in trouble or in a situation needing reflection, had an ancient memory jarred into the present from one teacher or another from his past who had prepared him for just that situation that he was in. The scenes played like a video of the ghosts from the temple preparing the new monk for what was surely to come in the future. Millman's Socrates reminded me of those video like memories in Kung Fu. If no other character could interact with Socrates throughout the book there would be no difference between him and the ancient monks from the Shoaling Temple.
To begin, I would like to focus on Dan Millman because to know the author in this case is to know the story. Dan Millman was a gymnastic champion who went on to coach the prominent Men's Stanford gymnastics team and also became a professor at Oberlin College. As an author, Millman's spiritual sagas have been translated into well over twenty languages worldwide and continue to inspire and enlighten millions.
Through his literary success, he has moved into the talk circuit where he continues to attract large audiences of many different backgrounds and affiliations. When asked what his inspiration was to write 'Way of the Peaceful Warrior' and 'Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior,' he responded on his web site that, "I wrote Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Sacred Journey to offer inspiring reminders about life's bigger picture and higher potential. But they were not intended as practical guidebooks for living (or about diet or fasting or meditation)." (Millman, 2003) When asked if the book was based on fact he answered on his site that the story is merely a novel that contains some autobiographical material.
Millman's character Socrates was a bit abrasive throughout the work. The abusive tone made the reader think that Socrates was overly condescending for the lack of a better word. The reader got the impression that Socrates was talking down to Dan while implying in a sarcastic demeanor that Dan should in fact already know this stuff.
Millman was asked on his website why Socrates was harsh to a point of sometimes humiliating the other character or if Socrates was in fact a good role model and he replied, "In Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Socrates poked fun at me to show me how easily I became offended. Soc treated most people with respect. He was, in any case, an unconventional teacher. Socrates had his style; I have mine. I do not mimic him or anyone else. In a personal apprenticeship, where the teacher understands the student, that teacher may affirm, deny, frustrate, or make light of a student. In such a relationship, mutual trust and respect are implicit and essential. But this does not in any way excuse a teacher's abuse or exploitation of students in this sacred relationship. To my liking but overall, the character was well thought out." (Millman, 2003)
The ancient Zen teachings known as the Hsin Ming ("Faith Mind Verses") were virtually an unknown document outside of scholarly circles for many hundreds of years. "Happily, the twentieth century produced a translator who rose to the challenge. Robert H. Clarke's rendering is that rarest of accomplishments in the field of translation. He has not only retained the sense of the Chinese but has re-created much of the poetry." (Sengtsan, 2003) Clarke in his translation kept the Chinese word, tao (pronounced "dow"). There was no equivalent in English. A translation of tao is equates to the "way." "In this context,...
The vs. By the Zen masters transcend time and language. The knowledge is universal in the sense that it can be applied to anyone in any situation. The verses are the tools by which a comparison will take place with Dan Millman's character 'Socrates.' Socrates is a gritty old guy who seems to know a great deal more about things than anyone should. In a way Socrates seems almost omnipotent. I felt that Socrates went out of his way to show Dan that the path was difficult to achieve but his intent was to show it as easy to obtain. The classic thinking of do as I do not as I say... So Socrates strays from the Zen works in that sense but still I feel he is teaching the way. In the case of Hsin Ming, the verses open with the thought that 'the way is not difficult' and I suppose I felt that Socrates could walk the path although in his teaching style it appeared that Dan would never get it.
To complete this assessment of Socrates and the Zen philosophies, the four Noble truths must be discussed. The truths are:
This Is Suffering
The Causes Of Suffering
Suffering Can End, Nirvana Is Peace
The True Path Or Eight-Fold Noble Path
According to the Buddha, the life we chose will inevitably cause suffering. Of course, we cause our own suffering within our minds and our main disillusionment as men is that we have a need for attachment to places, people and things. In addition, as people we cannot contain our inner demons or anger.
The Buddha preached that we as humans have the power to end our own suffering just as we cause it. When a person is enlightened to a point of no suffering they are believed to enter Nirvana. And accept for Curt Cobain, this seems to be where we should want to be. "So, if wisdom is the medicine that a spiritual teacher can prescribe, we still need to take it in and follow the instructions, otherwise there will be no effect." (Dharmaya, 2003)
All that being said, we can now discover the 'Last Noble Truth of the Path.' Man is required to control our body and mind in just such a way that we are teaching and aiding others as opposed to hurting or harming them. This will bring us to Nirvana. Buddhism uses an 'Eight-fold Noble Path:'
Correct thought: avoiding covetousness, the wish to harm others and wrong views (like: actions have no consequences, I never have any problems, there are no ways to end suffering etc.)
Correct speech: avoid lying, divisive and harsh speech and idle gossip.
Correct actions: avoid killing, stealing and sexual misconduct
Correct livelihood: try to make a living with the above attitude of thought, speech and actions.
Correct understanding: developing genuine wisdom.
The last three aspects refer mainly to the practice of meditation) Correct effort: after the first real step we need joyful perseverance to continue.
Correct mindfulness: try to be aware of the "here and now," instead of dreaming in the "there and then"
Correct concentration: to keep a steady, calm and attentive state of mind.
I feel throughout 'Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book That Changes Lives,' Millman, through Socrates, is promoting a mixture of Zen and Buddhism and Dan, the character; struggles are in fact a quest for Nirvana. When Dan leaves his wife and child near the end of his quest, he and his wife are obviously creating their suffering just as the Buddha explains we, as humans, are inclined by nature to do. "Not long after our first anniversary, Linda wanted us to see a marriage counselor." (Millman, 2000)
There are a great many examples or references throughout that can be attributed to the philosophies of the Buddhists and/or the Zen masters as presented above. "High above the city Socrates spoke again, "No one can help you beyond a certain point, Dan. I will be guiding you for a while, but then even I must step back and you will be alone. You will be tested severely before it is done. You will need great inner strength. I only hope it comes in time." (Millman, 2000) These words all contain the markings of the finding oneself in the course of inner peace and true self-motivation and meditation. Basically, Dan…
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