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ISSUE 121 VOL 3 PUBLISHED 10/5/2007

Hippie fest miscontsrues zen

By Ananya Mukopadhyay
Contributing Writer

Friday, October 5, 2007

I admire anyone's effort to bring together a community of warmth, relaxation and good fun. Last week, St. Olaf's first Zen Fair exemplified a gathering of this kind. However, I am opposed to calling an event something that it is not. The concept of Zen is one which is systematically stereotyped and misunderstood in our society. While I applaud our student community for creating an atmosphere of tolerance, I do not condone the fact that once again another part of Eastern philosophy has been misconstrued and placed under the heading "hippie festival."

In order to see my viewpoint, it is essential to understand the notion of Zen and having the words "Zen" and "fair" in the same title is an oxymoron.

If this oxymoron is intentional, then I believe it is disrespectful to the Zen tradition.

However, if it is unintentional, I have a problem with St. Olaf students not bothering to research what they choose to expose to the rest of their peers. Instead, they fall back on stereotypical nonsense.

Most people have heard the word Zen, but I am certain that they do not know what it really means. Its definition and what Zen is in practice are two different things. However, neither were present at the Zen Fair.

Zen is the Japanese shortened phrase for zenna, which is the translation of the Chinese word chaana. Chaana originates from Sanskrit word dhyana.

These words all connote deep and profound meditation. Meditation is the process or state of mind in which one is in complete stillness and therefore focused on a single object, chant or thought. Scientifically speaking, the practice of true meditation allows progress in focusing the mind and making it faster and sharper.

The practice of zazen, which implies literally sitting in meditation, is one of the primary facets of Zen Buddhism. In practice, Zen goes a step beyond sitting in meditation. Zen is the process of meditation in everyday life.

Zen is the reality of the absolute present, and the practice of meditating on that absolute present.

Zen is the destruction of the ego, or the "I." It takes a lifetime of meditation and understanding to achieve.

This said, a "fair" of any sort suggests an out-of-the-ordinary event. However, for a true practitioner, Zen is ever-present, and there need for a fair to experience it. How can this event claim association with Zen, but be so completely unrelated?

I suppose what irks me the most is witnessing how hard it has been over the past 40 years (since the original hippie revolution) and even in the last two decades in which I have been alive, to remove the stereotypes associated with Eastern thought.

It is always a struggle to help people understand the true depth and beauty that these philosophies have held for thousands of years.

I find it unfair that people feign knowledge of the Zen practice. Many years of study barely suffice.

It is equally frustrating that people with minimal understanding proceed to recreate the stereotypes that are finally beginning to be swept away.

Or maybe I just have a problem with categorizing Eastern philosophies under the blind section of New Age, because there is nothing "new" about any of it.

These philosophies shape people's everyday lives and are not to be taken lightly or thrown around in just any context.

The Zen Fair is another example of how an engaging event can misrepresent the very topic it tries to explore.

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