It is not an easy matter having to deal with the external world. What makes it so difficult, from a Buddhist perspective, is being embodied in our former karma (this is what our body is according to the Buddha) in addition to not understanding our will/desire which is going in the wrong direction, apprehending and coveting what is truly not ours; setting up future conditions for a rough life. Our counter to this inconvenient message is to either ignore it or insist that it is not grounded in science. Both solutions are born from the mindset of a Homer Simpson idiot attitude (“idiot” is a word of Greek origin that is very close to the Pali Buddhist term “puthujjana” meaning a common, ignorant person). Regrettably, we have come to love this funny American idiot as if there were actually something redeeming in being such an idiot in real life.
But just how does the average “idiot” in real life cancel out the detrimental effect of living the unexamined life of a typical idiot represented by the likes of Homer Simpson in a humorous way? This is the hard question because the answer required is not a trivial one. As we might expect there is a learning curve if we wish to escape from the life of an idiot. Being on this curve means dumping lots of bad behaviors and assumptions (Homer has many). And given that the K thru 12 educational system in the U.S. is designed to create consumer idiots, the task of being on the learning curve is perhaps possible but not probable.
Bearing all of this in mind, I am beginning to believe that Zen is being thought of as a religion for idiots something which Homer Simpson might find redemption in if only learning that living in the moment is all that it takes. Of course, there is no kensho here, that is, seeing our true nature which is transcendent and deathless. It is just about going from one thing to the next; living impulsively you could say: going with the flow. How Zen got stuck with this is anyone’s guess. But this attitude is not in the canonical literature. This kind of frivolous behavior is almost antithetical to the purpose of Zen when, for example, Homer eats 64 slices of American cheese.
Proper Zen is, at first, always a search: a deep, personal look into one’s being. One cannot be a full-time or even a partial idiot and hope to get anywhere in Zen. A special kind of intelligence is required not to mention good karma which has all along suspected that there is something deep in side of of us that doesn’t share the same fate as the physical body. Still, for some reason, modern culture needs Homer Simpson with his IQ of 55 (once his brain walked out on him). We chuckle. Still we find something admirable about him—perhaps only for the reason that he is a natural idiot whereas we are not. We struggle in the bardo between being an idiot and sensing there is more to life than drinking Duff beer. So we take up Zen.