Gérard Chinrei Pilet: Zen facing the challenges of the XNUMXst century

- through Fabrice Groult

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Disciple of master Deshimaru, Gérard Chinrei Pilet taught Dharma at the Zen dojo in Paris for many years. He was, alongside Pierre Rabhi, one of the main speakers at the “Zen, environment and ethics” symposium held on October 12 and 13 at the Gendronnière temple.

When did you discover the path of Zen?

My first meeting with her dates back to the winter of 1969/1970. I was then in the final class in Cherbourg, where Master Deshimaru had come to give a lecture on Zen. I saw, at the back of the room, a man facing the audience in a zazen posture on a small platform. A good twenty minutes later, he stood up and walked over to the microphone: “The most important part of the conference is now over. I'm going to start the second part! he told the audience before breaking into Zen. I was deeply impressed by her meditation posture which immediately appealed to me to the point of impressing itself deeply on me. The following days, since no Zen dojo existed in Cherbourg at the time, I began to practice this posture at home, which he had taken care to explain to us in detail. Having become the following year a philosophy student at the University of Caen, I decided to come to Paris once a week in order to be able to attend the sessions of zazen which he directed at the Pernéty dojo. Practicing in his presence immediately confirmed my choice to follow this path of Zen.

What particularly struck you about Master Deshimaru?

I was impressed by the strong energy that emanated from him, an energy that one felt when one practiced zazen in his presence. But also by the great faith that animated him, great faith in zazen and in his ability to contribute to providing answers to the crisis of civilization that we are going through and that he diagnosed from the very first days of his arrival in Europe. I was equally struck by his exceptional pedagogical sense and his great compassion: during the fifteen years of his mission, he gave without counting, without sparing his efforts or preserving his health to transmit the way of Zen to Europe.

Why did you decide to organise, this autumn at La Gendronnière, this symposium entitled “Zen, ethics and the environment”?

Master Deshimaru gave us the example of an openness to civil society through his encounters with philosophers and scientists. He himself initiated the organization of a major symposium on the theme “Healing the mind”. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend since he died a few months before it was held. We wanted to resume this practice from colloquiums after long years of interruption. As the civilizational crisis intensified, particularly on the ecological level, we felt it was our duty to make known the message and the answers of Zen to these problems. Zen masters in both China and Japan, and as far back as one can go, have always had a strong and deep relationship with nature.

In the lecture you gave during the symposium, you pointed out that the origin of the ecological crisis, of the systemic crisis that we are experiencing dates back to the XNUMXth century...

An ideological shift took place at the very beginning of the XNUMXth century. This, particularly with Descartes who made himself the advocate of this mutation which had been preparing since the end of the XNUMXth century with the discovery of the first machines. It was he, Descartes, who conceptualized this new approach and turned it into a philosophical theory that met with some success and contributed to its spreading throughout society, in the centuries that followed, under the form of an ideology which now pervades it in all its dimensions. It's a real reversal, a reversal of the paradigm in force that took place at that time. Until the very beginning of the XNUMXth century, humanity perceived itself as part of nature and one with the cosmic order. From the XNUMXth century, man no longer positioned himself in nature, but in front of it, in an attitude of quasi-challenge: we wanted to dominate it, conquer it. The XNUMXth century only reinforced this orientation with the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the encyclopaedist movement.

The remedy for this systemic crisis would be, according to you, above all spiritual. What can Zen bring to help find solutions to this crisis?

Zen brings the answers of this millennial tradition of which it is the heir, namely that man is endowed with a spiritual potential, called in Zen “Buddha nature”. If man resorts to the specific practices implemented by the Buddha, there is a development of this seed of enlightenment that he carries within him. The entire Zen tradition, heir to the Buddha's message, has experienced over the centuries, through hundreds of thousands of practitioners, that man carries within him this spiritual potential which, if developed, brought peace, inner contentment, true wisdom and compassion. This message is in fact accompanied by that of the Bodhisattva, that is to say of this being who takes care of the suffering of others and seeks to relieve it, because the one who develops his spiritual potential through zazen aspires to spread around him this practice so that those who wish to devote themselves to it can do so and thus escape the frustrations of a life lived in a form of spiritual desert.

“From the XNUMXth century, man no longer positioned himself in nature, but in front of it, in an attitude of quasi-challenge: we wanted to dominate it, conquer it. »

The Promethean civilizational paradigm (in Greek mythology, Prometheus is known to have stolen the sacred fire from Olympus to give it to humans), introduced in the XNUMXth century, resulted in a lowering of the level of consciousness of the humanity and by a non-development of its spiritual potential. On the other hand, this insurrection against the cosmic order has resulted in an outbreak of the three poisons of greed, hatred, ignorance, and by the appearance of forms of chaos. But I am convinced that the Promethean paradigm will collapse on its own when enough people devote themselves to spiritual practice.

How to spread the spiritual practice in a world where materialism and ambient individualism contribute to stifle any aspiration to a form of verticality?

The civilizational crisis becoming more and more acute, it appears that, in a swinging motion, a growing number of people aspire to rediscover a spiritual approach, a dimension of interiority. Suffering and enlightenment are two sides of the same coin. A spiritual potential that is not developed can only lead to the welling up of chronic suffering and dissatisfaction which lead man to seek to give his existence a deeper dimension.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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