Down the Rabbit Hole 

Daniel Silberberg's brand of Zen merges spirituality with psychology and self-improvement.

In a very famous novel, a little girl chases a white rabbit down a hole, then encounters the world's weirdest tea party. There, a Mad Hatter offers her wine. When she remarks that she doesn't see any, the March Hare replies that this is because there isn't any. Further parries ensue. Alice grows more perplexed.

"Does Alice know what the Mad Hatter is talking about? How often are we willing to accept that we don't know the answer to something?" Daniel Silberberg asks in his book Wonderland: The Zen of Alice, new from Berkeley's Parallax Press. Alice fumes when characters down the rabbit hole "don't comply with her expectations or her understanding. They don't do anything she thinks is proper or right," Silberberg points out. And most of us, he says, act like Alice: "We'd rather know and be right than live in a state of wonder and uncertainty."

And that's how we limit ourselves, avows the longtime Zen teacher, who also has a Ph.D in psychology and will be at Diesel (5433 College Ave., Oakland) on Tuesday, October 6. That's how we blind ourselves with rigid ideas of what, who, and how everything must be: "That's how we erect the walls of our house and block the view of the sky."

Silberberg urges readers to strive instead for "One Mind," which is "what we experience when we remove everything we know. The last thing to fall away is our idea of our separation from the world. Once that idea is gone, there is nothing left." The result, believe it or not, is contentment: "Zen practice," Silberberg writes, "is the practice of liking what you get." When we act like Alice, cramped by expectations and demands, "we usually have a thin margin of acceptance; we like very little of what we get. We want something else."

And that, as the Buddha used to say, is why we suffer.

Silberberg, who helms a self-improvement program called Lost Coin, savors the synthesis of ancient Buddhist precepts with cutting-edge ideas, technologies, and techniques. "Traditionally," he says, "Zen has always taken the shape of the culture that it resides in at any particular time." When he first discovered Zen forty years ago, he studied with elders who were steeped in Japanese tradition but who, having immigrated to America, adapted. Silberberg's teacher Taizan Maezumi Roshi "tried all kinds of things that we don't necessarily find revolutionary at this time — things like having men and women practice together. That was very revolutionary then, and we have the same task now."

For him, part of that task "is to take Zen out of a religious context. When I was a kid studying Zen, I never wanted to study Zen in a religious context," he recalls. "I'm not a person who likes organized religion." But that doesn't mean the Zen he teaches and that infuses his book isn't genuine or deep, he says. "It only means that the functions and forms of our society have changed," such that Zen practitioners today "can be more all-embracing, having science and spirituality and self-development and psychology all come together as a form of human evolution." Once we achieve this synthesis, he insists, we've entered Wonderland. 7 p.m., free.


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