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Thread: Praxis

  1. #1

    Praxis

    Jundo's talk today reminded me of how important the idea of praxis is in life, Zen, and music. That lead me to return to a book I read a few years ago about music education. From David Elliott's Music Matters:

    "In the old dualistic view, actions follow from verbal thoughts in a two-step sequence of think-act, think-act, ad infinitum. The first event is mental (speaking silently to oneself), and the second event is physical (bodily movement). The dualistic assumption is that thinking and knowing are always verbal and that bodily actions are nonverbal, dumb.

    Most philosophers and cognitive scientists today deny the dualistic view. Actions do not proceed by (1) verbally theorizing to oneself and then (2) physically doing. If they did, says Ryle, then the first event (verbal thinking) would become an action that would itself require a preceding act of theorizing, thereby leading us to the absurdity (or infinite regress) that no one can act until he or she completes an infinite number of verbal thoughts. In the contemporary view, actions are nonverbal forms of thinking and knowing in and of themselves. Ryle puts it this way: Overt intelligent performances are not clues to the workings of minds; they are those workings."

    This is why I am so drawn to jazz . . . I can witness musical thought occurring directly in front of me. A great player is not thinking about improvising then making sound, he/she is thinking BY making sound. Music is a nonverbal way of thinking. Huge evolution in the understanding of music, one that goes against the entrenched dualistic and academic ideas about music education. Musical thought is only manifested in musical action, indeed they cannot be separated.

    Relevance?
    I think you could replace the words "music" or "jazz" with "Zen" or "Life" and have an excellent definition of what I imagine our practice to be.
    Life is praxial. Zen is praxial. Their meanings are only realized in the actual doing of them. One taste.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  2. #2
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Praxis

    Thank you so much fo these very inspiring thoughts.

    gassho


    Taigu

  3. #3

    Re: Praxis

    This is why I am so drawn to jazz . . . I can witness musical thought occurring directly in front of me. A great player is not thinking about improvising then making sound, he/she is thinking BY making sound. Music is a nonverbal way of thinking. Huge evolution in the understanding of music, one that goes against the entrenched dualistic and academic ideas about music education. Musical thought is only manifested in musical action, indeed they cannot be separated.
    Hi Bill,

    The only thing I would add is that some folks think that Zen is only about those moments (like the old Samurai who swings his sword without a thought, or the Japanese ink brush calligrapher who writes in the same instantaneous way) in which we act spontaneously, without thinking.. And so with the Jazz pianist's finger's flying across the ivories.

    And it is only about that.

    But it is also only about all the other moments of deliberative thought ... choosing the musical arrangements, booking a room, reading a catelogue about which music sheets you will buy, planning which pants you will wear for the show, dealing with broken strings, tussling with the club manager about why your check is short, dealing with traffic on the drive home! It is both Jazz improv and the beginner's scales and everything in between.

    It is ALL "only" about that. Got my point? Nothing is left out. All is PRAXIS, and what you make of it in that moment. The whole thing is the "improv" of your life.

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Praxis

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    It is ALL "only" about that. Got my point? Nothing is left out. All is PRAXIS, and what you make of it in that moment. The whole thing is the "improv" of your life.
    Gassho, J
    Quote Originally Posted by Eika
    Life is praxial.
    Yes, that was sort of the point I was trying to make . . . I think I used so many words that their meaning got lost somewhere in there. EVERYTHING is a praxial moment was what I was driving at.
    Great talk yesterday, BTW, as you can see it really resonated with the me.

    Bill

  5. #5

    Re: Praxis

    Hi Bill.

    your post about music speaks to me. i love music, it is probably my greatest love after my family. i have started learning guitar a bit less than a year ago (switched to acoustic and electric guitar from classical about a month ago). about a week ago i started learning the very basics of jazz playing, the rhythm is so different!

    i agree when i pick up my guitar it is a lot of thinking yet there is no thinking i just do. it is zazen in a way... i just play and the music takes shape, i learn each part and play it over and over again until it is just right, it sometimes seems just a pointless repetition but i know that this repetition is just the repetition...


    i think i said too much...

    Gassho, Dojin (Daniel who just wants to play the electric guitar he bought a week ago).

  6. #6

    Re: Praxis

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    The only thing I would add is that some folks think that Zen is only about those moments (like the old Samurai who swings his sword without a thought, or the Japanese ink brush calligrapher who writes in the same instantaneous way) in which we act spontaneously, without thinking.. And so with the Jazz pianist's finger's flying across the ivories.
    I wrote about something similar on my own blog... While studying Zen painting, I became concerned that what was seen as somehow managing to break through the confines of the self--the spontaneity of the gesture, the "flying ink"--had become, in our own culture, a way of exacerbating the self (see the connection between Van Gogh's loose brushwork and the cult of the genius, etc.) (And here, by the way, I beg forgiveness for indulging in some art theory talk--but my interest in Zen and my interest in art--specifically modernism in art--are inseparable, connected at the root.) Here is what I wrote, here, commenting on some of my old drawings: "the main building bricks of my abstract vocabulary at this point were: loose, Zen inspired, flying-ink/broken-ink brushtsrokes; Rorschach blots; and blots carefully drawn to look as if spontaneous, and also similarly drawn blot-like lines around the genuinely spontaneous part of the images. I liked that dichotomy between genuinely spontaneous and only apparently spontaneous--the real blot and the fake blot--and it has stayed with me ever since... Overall... I would say I was trying to do a kind of Zen painting that questioned the demand for simple spontaneity that you find in traditional Zen art theory." Or, maybe I should say, in writings about Zen art. So I made drawings like this one:



    where quick brushwork is combined with what only look like inkblots, but are actually carefully drawn facsimiles of the same. This approach has stayed with me ever since... Here is a photo of some pieces, from a show I had in 2005--where I drew ink-drawings quickly, then traced the outlines of the inkblots on a light-table, with a line that is as far from spontaneous as possible:



    I hope this doesn't sound like I'm just coming here to talk about my work... In a way, it's both a response to Bill's (restricted) notion of praxis in the arts (and, by the way, whatever happened to "DontKnow"?), but also it is to say that art itself can be allegorical of much more universal issues--which does not mean that one creates the art to be "allegorical," that one begins with a thought, then finds a way to illustrate it, but rather that the seemingly limited practice in the art of your choosing is itself "allegorical" of everything--that the practice of the art is from the beginning universal. Does that make sense?

    It is ALL "only" about that. Got my point? Nothing is left out. All is PRAXIS, and what you make of it in that moment. The whole thing is the "improv" of your life.
    Which then means that intellectual tasks--reading or, umm, "philosophizing" about the scriptures, for example--is as much IT as "directly pointing" or as a "transmission outside of the scriptures." I've always been uneasy with this dichotomy, because I've felt that thinking itself--meditative thinking, but also complex, philosophical thinking--can also be its own "do," its own "way."

  7. #7

    Re: Praxis

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrei

    Which then means that intellectual tasks--reading or, umm, "philosophizing" about the scriptures, for example--is as much IT as "directly pointing" or as a "transmission outside of the scriptures." I've always been uneasy with this dichotomy, because I've felt that thinking itself--meditative thinking, but also complex, philosophical thinking--can also be its own "do," its own "way."
    Hi Andrei,

    Historians of Ch'an and Zen Buddhism are almost unanimously in accord these days that the 'Zen way' of a "special transmission outside the scriptures ... without reliance on words and letters" rarely, if ever, left the words and letters behind. In fact, throughout its history, Zen Practice has been intertwined with Buddhist philosophy, Sutra study, and scholarship of the highest order. Yes, there were the ancient monks who would burn all their books ... build a hut in the woods and leave all intellectual pursuits behind ... but most would choose to write something and make books in between doing so!
    .

    (reminds me of a friend who complained to me, after throwing all his books away, that he ended up having to go out and buy lots of them back)


    Perhaps we should best say that there are moments when we burn the books and grasp the moon, days when we build a hut on a stone cliff ... and other moments when we read and philosophize about the words while piercing through the words to the spaces between.

    The role of “words and letters” in Zen has often been misunderstood. For some students, reading and studying the sutras and the writings of the old masters is seen as anathema in Zen practice. However, even a cursory reading of Zen history reveals the important role that sutra study (and “words and letters”) has had in Zen practice. Reading the “words and letters” of the old masters such as Ma-tsu Kiangsi Tao-I (709-788)(P: Mazu Daoyi; J: Baso Do-itsu), Huang-po Hsi-yun (d. 849) (P: Huangbo Xiyun; J: Obaku Ki-un) and even that most iconoclastic master Lin-chi I-hsuan (d. 866) (P: Linji Yixuan; J: Rinzai Gigen) shows their deep and profound understanding of the sutras. Similarly, in later years Japanese masters such as D?gen Kigen (1200-1253) and Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769) were well-versed in not only the Buddhist sutras but also the writings of the early masters.

    So the question arises, is there such a thing as a “Zen canon”? Given that Zen masters have traditionally disdained depending on “words and letters”, preferring in many cases to teach via bizarre methods such as hitting, silence, non sequiturs, paradox, or shouting, what role do the writings play in Zen practice? As Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright point out in the Introduction to The Zen Canon: Understanding the Classic Texts, Zen Buddhism has produced “by far the most voluminous and important canon of sacred texts in East Asia…The variety [of which] is also extraordinary.” (p 4) Zen literature began in the late T’ang dynasty (618-907) and continues to modern times (note the voluminous writings of modern Zen teachers such as Robert Aitken and John Daido Loori). It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is largely due to all these “words and letters” that Zen Buddhism has had such success, both in ancient times and in the modern era.

    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenBookReviews/Zen_Canon.html

  8. #8

    Re: Praxis

    Hi.

    Sometimes books are "good", sometimes not.

    I find it helpful sometimes to have a bookreference to quote, since that seems to help people "understand better", and also they seem to "ponder"it more when it comes from a book rather than just me, although it is...

    But we should always keep in the back of our head, that books are like a finger pointing at the moon (to anecdoting a zenstory), and that we must "think for ourselves"...

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  9. #9

    Re: Praxis

    Quote Originally Posted by Andrei
    In a way, it's both a response to Bill's (restricted) notion of praxis in the arts (and, by the way, whatever happened to "DontKnow"?), but also it is to say that art itself can be allegorical of much more universal issues--which does not mean that one creates the art to be "allegorical," that one begins with a thought, then finds a way to illustrate it, but rather that the seemingly limited practice in the art of your choosing is itself "allegorical" of everything--that the practice of the art is from the beginning universal. Does that make sense?
    It makes complete sense. BTW, I wasn't speaking for all the arts, simply my small corner of it in the jazz world where process is emphasized (once again, I can only speak for myself). Also, I didn't mean to imply that praxis does not include the pre-planning, theorizing, studying, eating, sleeping, love-making, etc, that also are part of one's life. Indeed, the pizza I ate last night will be part of my playing today. I meant that all of those things manifest themselves in the actual doing of something, and that that is the practice I am so drawn to . . . the realization of all of the interdependent parts to bring the moment to life.
    I'm not averse to intellectual stuff, I could not improvise without a great deal of complicated music theory study, but my feeling is that doing/action/movement is where the "rubber meets the road."

    Bill/dontknow/Eika/Dad/Dr.Swann/?

    PS--After the jukai I changed my screen name to the dharma name that Jundo gave me.

  10. #10

    Re: Praxis

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hi Andrei,

    Historians of Ch'an and Zen Buddhism are almost unanimously in accord these days that the 'Zen way' of a "special transmission outside the scriptures ... without reliance on words and letters" rarely, if ever, left the words and letters behind. In fact, throughout its history, Zen Practice has been intertwined with Buddhist philosophy, Sutra study, and scholarship of the highest order. Yes, there were the ancient monks who would burn all their books ... build a hut in the woods and leave all intellectual pursuits behind ... but most would choose to write something and make books in between doing so!
    .

    (reminds me of a friend who complained to me, after throwing all his books away, that he ended up having to go out and buy lots of them back)


    Perhaps we should best say that there are moments when we burn the books and grasp the moon, days when we build a hut on a stone cliff ... and other moments when we read and philosophize about the words while piercing through the words to the spaces between.
    Hi Jundo--I of course agree (actually, speaking of historians of Zen, I loved Dale S. Wright's book on Huang Po, which basically reaches this conclusion)--but there are still many Zen practitioners who don't quite seem to have received the memo...

    Edit to add: I really like the notion that "we read and philosophize about the words while piercing through the words to the spaces between." This was discussed in a great essay by Henri Bergson under the term (and title) of "Philosophical Intuition." And yes, of course--you have to pierce through his words too... And I think that such a"piercing" is as important in reading, and thinking about, Western philosophy, as Zen.

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