Genni Lee Hester

authzenticity: positing the noumenon within zazen

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I caught myself! I caught myself mindlessly reading a book, a book on Zen none-the-less. The word, which woke my wandering mind, was italicized, yet I doubt I would have missed it either way. Noumenon. No, no, no I am reading about the practices of Zen, not in a philosophy course geared toward Immanuel Kant’s epistemology (not that I did not enjoy that class, but this is leisure reading). Noumenon, there it is again, ‘the thing in itself.’ I once considered this inaccessible reality to be a transcendental state of being – one void of phenomenon. I am sure I uttered something to the effect: “So, like, the Noumenon is pretty much Nirvana.” Oy.

Merriam-Webster defines Noumenon as: a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the senses. Trouble begins at the very first step in trying to understand Noumenon, attempting to conceptualize it leads to the destruction of it. The mind destroys it. Coincidently Noumenon’s etymology points to the mind. NOU coming from the Greek word for mind, nous [νοῦς].

Although careful measures are taken to prep the body for zazen, seated meditation, the true essence of the practice is about the nous or the mind. The meditation cushion is a meeting place between the inner and outer worlds we inhabit. Perhaps the Noumenon resides in this space as well. Just like the word Noumenon jumped out at me while reading, the ‘real’ Noumenon (when one least expects it) might just jump out of the zazen practice.

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“Through practice, when the deluded mind dissolves into darkness, another presence emerges that I have referred to as returning to calm and quiet, like an Icelandic landscape of infinite beauty, spaciousness, and peace. That’s where zazen mind, or the universal mind that we all intimately share, is so great and vast, without beginning or end” Jakusho Kwong.

In Eastern Philosophy the mind is often seen as a sixth sense, which mangles the above proposition that the Noumenon is intimate with the mind. The possibility that it goes beyond the limited mind to Samadhi or Nirvana is still a possibility. Maybe it is not the mind that destroys the Noumenon, yet the Noumenon that destroys the limited mind. Ultimately, there is no answer, there is no right or wrong, there is no there is.

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