Zen & Zizek

Recently, for reasons that have thus far eluded me, my interest has turned to Zen Buddhism. In the past month or so I’ve dug out my old copies of Religion and Emptiness, The Logic of the Place of Nothingness, and a couple collections of Nagarjuna and Dogen. In the process, I discovered it took me back with welcome. I’m still not sure where I stand, not fully with or against it, and certainly not (yet) a practitioner, but I do find it continuing to defy expectations. Indeed, one of the things that I’ve long appreciated about Buddhism is its capacity to run against the grain of its Western embrace.

In America’s Zen industry, the practice of meditation is often another means of “finding yourself.” It is regarded as a means to see through the false and realize the true. But in my, admittedly novice, understanding, neither of these notions seem sufficient. What I gather from Nagarjuna, in particular, is a sense that there is no discovery as such, no “truth on the other side.” In meditation, one doesn’t find truth, but rather the means finally to see the false as false. And that’s it. In many respects, despite his protests, how far removed is this from Zizek’s presentation of the Real as “that invisible obstacle, that distorting screen, which always ‘falsifies’ our access to external reality, that ‘bone in the throat’ which gives a pathological twist to every symbolization, that is to say, on account of which every symbolization misses its object.” If the Real is a kind of falsification, in the guise normally of hope or desire for something beyond the false, Zen is consumed with the apprehension & internalization of this falsification. Is it not the religious embodiment of “Enjoying Your Symptom”? Could one even say that philosophy on the way to the Real is a form of Zen?

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