Ten Zen Questions

by Susan Blackmore

Published March 2009 by OneWorld

I have been practising Zen for nearly thirty years; not as a Buddhist, but as a scientist with a great dislike of religions and dogma. Fortunately Zen lends itself to deep inquiry and a rejection of orthodoxy and so I have managed not to rebel but to learn from its traditional techniques of calming the mind and looking into the nature of experience.

In this book I bring together my scientific training with my Zen practice to delve into ten great questions. Among them are “Who is asking the question?” and “Am I conscious now” as well as some traditional Zen koans. The aim of the book is to see whether personal experience can help penetrate the scientific mystery of consciousness. Many neuroscientists and philosophers working on consciousness believe that a first person approach should be able to do so, but few have attempted to bridge the gulf between science and personal practice.

The book begins with two introductory chapters;  Falling into Zen describes my own practice and how I set about tackling the questions, and The problem of consciousness outlines the scientific and philosophical issues at stake. There are then ten chapters devoted to the questions, a very brief conclusion and, finally, a critical commentary from my own Zen teacher.

I found struggling with these questions an enormous challenge. The idea of writing about them is not to provide final answers but to show how intellectual inquiry and meditational inquiry can be brought together to tackle some question that are, at the moment, real mysteries for science.

The illustrations were originally going to be commissioned by Oneworld but in the end I decided to do them myself. I chose to use Chinese brush and ink, a medium I had never used before. This seemed appropriate, given that my meditation training has mostly been in Chan Buddhism (the Chinese precursor of Japanese Zen). To paint them I went back to places where I had done much of the meditation and writing, and hoped the brush would provide its own inspiration. They are therefore not professional illustrations but I hope they will serve to slow down your reading at certain points, and help you to sink into the questions as you read.

On this site I hope to publish some of the questions and invite all you meditators out there to share your thoughts and join in a discussion. You might like to meditate on one of the questions first and then read the chapter, or the other way around.

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