Intellectual Bypass

You’ve no doubt heard of spiritual bypass. Someone uses spirituality to go around his psychological baggage. The result is that the one so bypassing continues to “act out” his shit despite having attained greater states of consciousness.

My Zen teacher recently pointed out that in addition to spiritual bypass, there is also psychological bypass. In the latter scenario, one continues to be fascinated by endless psychological insights and, in consequence, never begins to set foot on the noble path. Endlessly studying the contents of the mind just won’t do since, as one of the Noble Vows clearly states, “Delusions are endless; I vow to put an end to all of them.” Yet I can only hope to put an end to all of them if I go to the very root, which is the illusory belief in a separate self. The latter is the frame upon which delusions are hung.

To the above list must be added intellectual bypass. Of course, you can use the intellect to try to skirt around the messy psychological baggage. In so doing, you avert your gaze, turning away from this right here while allowing the intellect to come to some kind of rational explanation for its existence. One simple critique of cognitive therapies is that if they were truly efficacious, then there would be no point in repeatedly having to “challenge” “unhealthy or irrational beliefs.” By the understandable lights of those schooled in more somatic forms of therapy, this approach fails to go deep enough. I agree.

If I may return to my Zen teacher for a moment and to the Rinzai Zen tradition more generally, then I would say that the bigger, more blatant form of intellectual bypass is to be found in trying to answer a koan–the deepest enigma about what truly is–by drawing on the powers of the intellect. Time and again, Zenkei Shibayama in The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan hammers away at the inability of the intellect to reveal to us our true nature. As Kant rightly said, the intellect can pose questions that it cannot possibly answer. Just so. Therefore, the intellect must give way to the “Zen eye” which, when “opened,” can see directly what is.

I feel inclined to tarry on the overreaching of the intellect for one moment longer to ensure that I’ve stuck the point home. I remember meditating with a Zen group for quite sometime. Invariably, one older man would, during the discussion of the Dharma, cite this koan or that Zen story and comment on it. But this is not Zen. To let your intellect take the reigns when matters of ultimate concern are at stake is to have made a grievous mistake. Such cuteness is blinding.

Only the heartmind–as open and as trusting as could be–is the way of the Way. Therefore, one comes forthwith or after some maturation to “faith in Mind.”