The feared and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens is featured in an article by Anthony Gottlieb (no relation) in the most recent New Yorker -- an article which reviews the surge in post-9/11 atheist literature and positions Hitchens as the poster-child of angry new-millenium atheism. To wit:
Hitchens is nothing if not provocative. Creationists are 'yokels,' Pascal's theology is 'not far short of sordid,' the reasoning of Christian writer C.S. Lewis is 'so pathetic as to defy description,' Calvin was a 'sadist and torturer and killer,' Buddhist sayings are 'almost too easy to parody,' most Eastern spiritual discourse is 'not even wrong,' Islam is a 'rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms,' Hanukkah is a 'vapid and annoying holiday,' and the psalmist King David was an 'unscrupulous bandit.'
The excerpt above makes me wonder what Buddhist writings Hitchens has been reading. Since he refers to "sayings," I can only imagine that he's restricting himself to the Zen birthday cards in the Hallmark stores, or their equivalent.
Turns out that, as he and his colleagues do with all other religions, he conflates all forms of Buddhism into one system "as hysterical and sanguinary as any other system that relies on faith and tribe," when trashing the Dalai Lama's (admittedly sometimes imbalanced) balancing act as both head of state and spiritual leader.
I found Zen writings to be among the most challenging and satisfying I'd ever read -- particularly the writings of Eihei Dogen, a 13th-century Japanese monk and the founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. They may in fact be absurdly easy to parody; most writing that's great fits that description.
Now if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others'. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now.
Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, meeting one thing is mastering it -- doing one practice is practicing completely.
When you ride in a boat and watch the shore, you might assume that the shore is moving. But when you keep your eyes closely on the boat, you can see that the boat moves. Similarly, if you examine myriad things with a confused body and mind you might suppose that your mind and nature are permanent. When you practice intimately and return to where you are, it will be clear that nothing at all has unchanging self.
Zen master Guangzuo of Mt. Zhimen was once asked by a monk, "What is going beyond buddha?"
He said, "To carry sun and moon on the end of your staff."
This means that you are completely covered by the sun and moon on top of a staff. This is buddha going beyond. When you penetrate the staff that carries sun and moon, the entire universe is dark. This is buddha going beyond. It is not that the sun and moon are the staff. "On the end of a staff" means the entire staff.
Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops in the grass, or even in one drop of water.
Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky.
The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however short or long its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.
-- Selections from Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi
Dogen was not a fan of practice with koans or chanting: he believed in sitting in meditation, in "dropping off body and mind" as a way of piercing through the accepted shells of existence and deeply understanding the imperanence of everything.
If this seems easy to parody, it's only because it's almost impossible to do.
Try it sometime.