ʻATENISI INSTITUTE

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Oct. 2023 – Kiwi Expert on Asian Philosophy Counters False Impressions re Taoism, Zen

missing picture: RvS.jpg

Kiwi Zen manager Richard von Sturmer

“When you try and try, the world is beyond the winning” – Tao Te Ching

In an evening talk for the ‘Atenisi community in early October, Richard von Sturmer – veteran manager of Auckland’s lively Zen Centre and author of nine spiritual guides – dispelled misconceptions about key attitudes of Taoist, Buddhist, and Zen philosophy, i.e.:

• The Zen practitioner indeed seeks to rid the mind of conventional traps, such as the compulsive pursuit of status, wealth, and power. But the sage cautioned that one mustn't flush the ethical baby out with the delusional bath water. Even in a drained mind, the five Buddhist precepts must prevail, including abstinence from:

o taking life;

o taking what is not given;

o sexual misconduct;

o false speech; and

o intoxicants – the catalysts of reckless behaviour.

And from the truly empty mind will inevitably percolate metta, the Buddhist term for compassion for all sentient beings. That capacity, in the speaker’s view, is a fundamental instinct that, in the absence of delusion, informs human behaviour.

• And Taoism, he went on, is hardly a license for inaction. What the Tao Te Ching counsels is not indolence, but rather the sort of effort that partners with surrounding vibrations. For example, Taoist diplomacy would endorse the sort of cooperative coalition that has been assisting the Republic of Ukraine, rather than some rogue riposte by a competing superpower. In other words, go with the flow, traveller … or more presciently, flow with the go.

The following afternoon von Sturmer visited the University’s class on Asian philosophy. Students were intrigued to learn that in his youth RvS had been a punk lyricist, having penned a popular Kiwi anthem in the early ‘80s, “There is no Depression in New Zealand”. By the end of the decade, however, he and his wife Amala had committed to Buddhist development – initially in the U.S., but by the ‘90s back in New Zealand.