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John Cage in an excerpt from his 1959 work "Indeterminacy," in which he tells 90 stories in 90 minutes taking about one minute for each story. The collision of dialogue and music, like the collision of ideas, is purely intentional.

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORD SCRATCH)

CAGE: After the concert I was walking along with the composer and he was telling me how...

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORD)

CAGE: ...the performances had not been quite up to snuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO)

CAGE: So I said, Well, I...

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

CAGE: ...enjoyed the music, but I don't agree with that program note...

(SOUNDBITE OF SCRATCHING)

CAGE: ...about there being too much pain in the world. He said, what? Don't you think there's enough?

(SOUNDBITE OF RECORD)

CAGE: I said...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

CAGE: I think there's just...

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLE)

CAGE: ...the right amount.

How consistent is this with the ethics of Zen Buddhism? Or is this little playful parable Cages reinterpretation of a Zen Koan, and forcing us to rethink what can be meant by dhukkho (suffering)?

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It is completely consistent. Consider Hyakujo's Fox, where it is stated that "the enlightened man is one with the law of causation." The enlightened man does not seek to escape his own suffering, he seeks to reconcile a karmic/samsaric world with a blissful Nirvana.

It is completely inconsistent. Zen is a Mahayana Buddhist tradition, and the Zen student seeks to become a Boddhisatva: one who strives for the emancipation of all beings and the freedom of all souls.

The point is, Zen is not consistent with itself (from the classical, rationalist perspective consistency), and to discuss "consistency" with its views misses Zen's broader picture. I think it is best articulated with your alternative proposal: that it nears a koan and forces us to rethink dhukka.

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