Several days ago after reading Paul Johnson's section on "Karl Marx" in his book titled, Intellectuals, I concluded that Karl Marx was, in some ways, like Cervantes’ deluded fictional character Don Quixote who, as a result of reading too many books on chivalry, believed himself to be a knight-errant destined to redress the wrongs and injuries of the world committed by insolent and wicked men (for Marx it was the bourgeoisie).
Then, out of the blue, I began to wonder, seriously, if our academic institutions are not encouraging the growth and development of Don Quixotes especially in the humanities and even in our law schools. We might think of such people as enthusiasts, but nevertheless, deluded knights-errant trying to redress all manner of wrongs in the world but who end up doing far more harm than good.
Looking back to my twenties, how refreshing it was for me back then to have discovered Zen. Zen, I believe, came to the West in the nick of time when the academic Don Quixotes had started to take over the world of the intellect, the intellect being a kind of tool that works on and with the imagination. Zen, of course, will have none of this and the Western intellect still does not understand why Zen is like this.
Zen masters are always alluding to something beyond the world of our imagination which frustrates the intellect which is always looking for some kind of believable representation it can have access to. Yet, ironically, Zen has attracted a few intellectuals—the Don Quixote types: those who value the intellect as a means of unraveling the mystery of Zen; who imagine they are Buddhas already or close to it.
The worst that comes out of this kind of deluded, intellectual Zen is hypocrisy and the making of a false Zen by which to lead the many astray, somewhat like what happened with Marx’s utopian vision—without the river of blood. As history informs us, the legacy of Marx was the horrific body count of global Communism. With Cervantes' Don Quixote, the good news is that he repented. Finally, the dark shadows of ignorance from the detestable books of chivalry that shrouded over him from his continuous reading of them disappeared. He died shortly afterward.