Ruth Ozeki: Zen and Politics

December 18, 2013

Reading the papers for “American Literature in the World,” I’m struck by how few wrote on My Year of Meats.   Did people think it was too political, with too much of an agenda, out to get the meat industry?

And now Ruth Ozeki has come out with A Tale for the Time Being: the same trans-Pacific coupling, the same combination of first- and third-person narrative, but otherwise with a different feel, it seems. Ozeki has always been a practicing Zen Buddhist; this is the first time, though there’s no looking away from it — as a form of consciousness, a consciousness of being a sojourner in time.

The novel begins with the words of Dogen Zenji, the 13th century Zen master: “For the time being, standing on the tallest mountain top/ For the time being, moving on the deepest ocean floor;/ For the time being, a demon with three heads and eight arms,/ For the time being, the golden sixteen-foot body of a Buddha…”

Dogen divides each day into 6 billion segments, just to show how urgent it is to engage each of these, to be fully alive in each.

A form of paranoia, we could say.   But also one that leads to a form of practice — a Zen for nonhumans as well as humans — based on the briefness of time allotted to each.  I wonder if this isn’t also the “politics” in My Year of Meats?

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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