Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ünintended Consequences

I'm in Eastern Europe for a few more days, trying to bang out this posting at a Prague hotel. Please excuse any weirdness that results from the foreignness of the keyboard; I'll clean things up when I get back to where I belong.

I came here for a Zen conference in Warsaw, and in my previous posting, I wondered why Zenning is so popular in Poland. I've found out part of the answer, which was kinda interesting. When the Communists controlled Eastern Europe, they tried to impose their atheism everywhere. It worked to a certain extent. A Czech guy in our group says that his country is the most atheistic in the world. But Poland was different.

Centuries ago, when barbarians attacked, denizens of Polish villagers would retreat to the local Church, as it was the best fortified building around. They'd rely on the protection of the Church building for days at a time. Maybe that's part of the reason why Catholicism became deeply connected to the Polish mindset. For example, every public schoolroom in Poland still displays a cross; though such Church-State mixing is forbidden, no police force would dare enforce the law.

So the Russians had little success in dislodging Christianity. When the Communists pushed atheism, the Poles responded like teenagers, doing the exact opposite of what the authorities told them to do.

The Russians in turn responded by supporting anything they saw as possibly weakening the Church. Back in the 70s, Zen Master Seung Sahn (founder of our school) had a student in the US who was a visiting professor from Poland. The professor encouraged the Zen Master to visit his homeland. When the Zen Master applied for visas etc, the Communists saw this strange brand of Buddhism as something that could maybe make people question Catholicism, so they smoothed his way at every turn.

In due time, Communism got swept into the dustbin of history. The Catholics maintained their hold on the Polish soul (with the Pope receiving much credit for the fall of Communism). But the stranglehold of Christianity got weakened ever so slightly by the foothold gained by this weird Zen stuff.


Nick said...

I happened across your intriguing blog via our shared interest in entheogens. I like your style Dude.

Stuart said...

Thanks, Nick, good to virtually meet you.

Re entheogens... I'm writing this from Amsterdam, where I'll spend one more day before flying home (assuming the world doesn't grind to a halt beforehand). I'll likely go no further than eating some hash brownies and staring into space... but there are also mushrooms for sale all over. The various mushroom varieties are right in the windows of the "smart shops," with ratings for visuals, body effects, mind effects etc. Sold over the counter, like asprin or beer in the US. And somehow, the city doesn't fall apart, everything goes on just fine.

Doug said...

Great Stuff! There's something utterly fascinating (in a macabre sort of way) to me about Soviet history and post-history like this. So many lessons for humanity stored up in that <100 year experiment, and yet people outside the former Soviet Republics - and even some inside - already seem to be forgetting them 15 years later...

Hope the trip continues to go well!

- Doug