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With the possible exception of Bodhidharma himself, the greatest of all Zen masters is usually considered to have been 趙州從諗, or, as it is pronounced in Modern Mandarin, Zhàozhōu Cōngshěn.  In Japan, he is known as Jōshū Jūshin.  Most commonly, he is known merely as Zhaozhou or Joshu (henceforth I drop the diacritics).  The tendency in writing about the Chinese Zen masters these days is to use the original Chinese forms of their names.  Since Zen came to the English-speaking world mostly via Japan, older books typically use the Japanese forms of the name.  Thus, for example the noted Zen scholar and popularizer D. T. Suzuki, in his seminal works on Zen, always refers to the worthy we are considering here as “Joshu”.  For the rest of this post, I’ll follow his lead.  Yes, it’s less accurate; but then again, the Chinese of the Tang dynasty, during which Joshu lived, was pronounced significantly differently from modern Mandarin; and Joshu probably didn’t pronounce his own name as “Zhaozhou”.  Certainly, with Western religious figures, it doesn’t bother us that we don’t use the original forms of names–that we call the carpenter of Nazareth “Jesus” instead of Yēšūă‘ and his disciple “Peter” instead of Kêphā.  I certainly first encountered and developed an admiration for Joshu under his Japanese name; so Joshu it will be for the rest of this post.

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The Second Most Evil Song of All Time!


Here we go again….  😉  As with the Most Evil Song of all time, it’s not about musicianship, or whether the song is a “good” pop song or not, or what your feelings about Justin Timberlake may be.  It’s not even about the conscious intentions of the songwriter(s).  It’s about the message contained within the song.  Let’s jump right in.  Here are the full lyrics (which can be found lots of other places, too); and I’ve quoted the part I want to look at below, my emphasis, as usual:

‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now
I’m looking right at the other half of me
The vacancy that sat in my heart
Is a space that now you hold
Show me how to fight for now
And I’ll tell you, baby, it was easy
Coming back into you once I figured it out
You were right here all along
It’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making two reflections into one
‘Cause it’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me, staring back at me

Superficially, this is better than Savage Garden’s “I Knew I Loved You”, which implies that the lover is brought into very existence merely at the whim and pleasure of the narrator.  Here, the beloved has a separate existence, at least.  The first line of the song, not in the block above, says, “Aren’t you somethin’ to admire/’Cause your shine is somethin’ like a mirror” which at least acknowledges the lover as a “Thou“, a real Other, and compliments her.  However, in the very next line, the narrator says, “And I can’t help but notice/You reflect in this heart of mine.”  Well, it was good while it lasted.

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The Mind is Like a Mirror Bright


In which I clarify and expand some notions that I unintentionally left hanging last time.

My thesis there is that sin–or human imperfection, if you prefer more neutral terminology–is much like addiction.  An addict, becoming progressively more deeply addicted, becomes less in possession of true freedom of action.  Unlike a first-time user, who freely uses nicotine or heroin or whatever, the addict uses it from physiological and psychological need.  Even with the realization that what he’s doing is bad for himself and that it may compel him to do other negative things–lying, cheating, stealing, even murder–in order to get the next fix, he is powerless to stop.  His freedom of will is mitigated, overlaid, suppressed, all because of the addiction.  This is why interventions are often necessary to get an addict on the way to healing.  Unable to take the first step himself, he needs a prod from others.  He may even need to be forcibly institutionalized.

By analogy, I said sin is like an addiction.  We suffer from it as a result of genes, upbringing, society, and so on, and are in its grip from the start (what we could call “Original Sin”).  Thus, our freedom is compromised by our sinful tendencies, and we are unable, by ourselves, to take the first steps to overcoming sin.  In traditional theology, prevenient grace is God’s “intervention”–the prod he gives us that makes us able to begin the process of spiritual rehab (I should point out that this works in any religious framework.  God can, and in my view does, give prevenient grace to non-Christians as much as to Christians.  The basic concept here could be re-framed in terms of other religions, too, but in this context I’m using the Christian perspective).  Extending this further, I argued that this is not a breach of our free will.  My contention was that just as an addict’s free will is compromised by his addiction, ours is compromised by sin.  I think a strong Scriptural and theological case can be made for this.

Thus, there is a person’s surface, or “false” will–the will that is wounded and compromised by sin.  Just as the addict “wants” drugs, we think we “want” all kinds of bad things.  Below the false will is the true will–what we’d really want if cleansed of sickness.  Just as an addict, after drying out, realizes he doesn’t really want more drugs, the sinner, after cleansing, realizes he never really wanted to sin.  Of course, this rests on my unexamined assumption–that is, that there actually is a “true” will, and that this true will is on the side of the angels–that it really, beneath it all, wants the good and wants to escape addictions, of drugs or of sin.  But is this assumption true?

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