The play-based mind of zen practice

“Play is the answer to how anything new comes about” Jean Piaget.*

Have you noticed that zen practice tends toward gravitas? Serious. Oriented toward form for sitting, chanting, eating, and lots else. When was the last time you played at something that was good for nothing? A fidget spinner? Binge Netflix?

Actually, Shohaku Okamura, invoking Dogen, says zazen is good for nothing. My dog intuitively understood this better than I. One minute we were playing fetch and then in instant, things changed, and Morgan stalked the birds. When she tired of that, we went back to fetch. Are you OK with playing fetch, then playing with something else, and then returning to fetch? Or are you worried, even guilty, that you are doing it wrong? Surely Morgan thought nothing of it. Sometimes, zazen is like that.

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*Piaget is the author of the The Moral Judgement of the Child (1932) where he suggests moral judgement is learned in stages and embedded in rules, play, and peer relationships. I cite him here not for the truth of his intellectual oeuvre but because his point about play is well-known in philosophy, education, pyschology, and learning theory.


dana takagiComment