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We have absorbed into our Western culture almost unawares such Zen cultural forms and aesthetic principles as Japanese ideas of architecture, gardens, and flower arranging. Other forms, such as Haiku poetry and Zen-style ceramics, we have borrowed in a more open-handed way, freely acknowledging the source. Actually, none of the Zen arts is really out of our reach, and a critical following has developed in the West for almost all of them. The great Irish poet and dramatist William Butler Yeats embraced the Zen-inspired No drama, although he probably knew next to nothing about Zen. (For that matter, we should recall that no English-language books were written on Zen until well into the twentieth century.) It seems fair to say that the Zen arts have touched us because they express some view of the world that we have, several hundred years later, quite independently come to share.
Yet for all the seeming familiarity, there remains an alien quality. We are not always aware of the really quite extraordinary mind manipulation inherent in Zen art. Why, for instance, does a Japanese garden often seem much larger than it really is? How does the Japanese-style room alter human perception in such a way that people’s experience of each other is intensified? Why do Zen ceramics always manage to make one take special notice of their surface? This subtle manipulation of perception is all done by ingenious but carefully hidden tricks. But since the Zen arts appear so modern, we are lulled out of looking below the surface to find the fundamental differences.
Most important of all, it is easy to miss what is surely the most significant quality of Zen arts—their ability to unlock our powers of direct perception. Since Zen teaches that categories and systematic analysis hinder real understanding of the outer
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