Meaning of 'moment of zen'?
July 22, 2005 4:45 PM   Subscribe

What is a 'moment of (something) zen'? I keep seeing this (on blogs in particular) and I don't know what it means.

I must have missed the memo. On BoingBoing, Xeni Jardin seems to use it on practically every other post, but there are plenty of other examples. From the context, it usually just seems to mean 'a neat thing that happened' or 'a neat thing that I found'.

Is that really all it is? Is it actually anything to do with Zen? I've only ever seen it on the internets -- is it from somewhere else? It's really bugging me...
posted by chrismear to Writing & Language (17 answers total)
Best answer: I assume it must be a reference to the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He finishes each show with "Here's your moment of Zen" which is a funny (or not so funny depending on your point of view and political beliefs) clip from the day.
posted by karen at 4:50 PM on July 22, 2005

I don't recall having seen this phrase before the Daily Show, but I will note that it's been part of the Daily Show formula from the very start, long before Stewart came along.
posted by jjg at 4:57 PM on July 22, 2005

jjg, fair enough :)
posted by karen at 5:00 PM on July 22, 2005

Best answer: To give the phrase's users too much credit, it could mean "this is something which inspires in me the same reaction as does contemplating Zen koans."

But, really, you had it right the first time. Something neat.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:01 PM on July 22, 2005

Before Stewart came along, the zen moments were typically clips of people in other lands partaking in wierd rituals. Frying cats or putting drills through their tongues and whatnot (no, really).

I always took it as a snarky way of saying - "You having a bad day? Things get a little wierd for you? You got nothing on these guys."

A real moment of zen would, in theory, be a moment of clarity in which you became aware of the nothing/everything that makes the world go 'round and were somehow better for it.
posted by jaded at 5:03 PM on July 22, 2005

Odds are, anytime you read the word “zen,” it has no relation to actual Mahayana Zen Buddhism. In this context, it could mean “insight” or “enlightenment.” Currently, the highest rated definition in the Urban Dictionary is “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
posted by ijoshua at 5:12 PM on July 22, 2005

Best answer: As used on the Daily Show and as I've seen others co-opt it, it's a way of introducing something with a self-evident value/payoff, apropos of nothing. On the Daily Show, it's mainly a device of comedic editing, whereby some tiny clip is displayed totally out of context, with the audience expecting a great big laugh, and therefore ready to read anything and everything into the content of the clip.
posted by scarabic at 6:07 PM on July 22, 2005

Best answer: I think JWZ nailed it when he banned the word zen.
posted by revgeorge at 6:40 PM on July 22, 2005

It probably comes from a diluted understanding of kensho or satori. However, in pop culture, it usually means, "that's deep" or "contradictory but still meaningful".
posted by luckypozzo at 8:11 PM on July 22, 2005

Best answer: Zed_Lopez is on the right track.

Koans are small stories, used in Zen training, in which the meaning (or "point") of the story cannot be resolved through our normal, rational, Western reasoning. If you've ever read Zen koans, they share the characteristic of seeming contradictory, and nonsensical.

When people talk about a "moment of Zen," they are referring to something that seems somewhat incomprhensible and mind-blowing -- like a Koan.

For those that are curious, here is a link that will link to randomly-selected example koans.
posted by curtm at 8:20 PM on July 22, 2005

Best answer: One of the goals of most Zen practice is to train your mind to quiet its chatter about past and future and embrace entirely the moment you are currently experiencing.

I've always taken The Daily Show's "moment of Zen" (and the others linked here) as a kind of simplified, shorthand, somewhat distorted version of same; i.e. here, in this weird or lame or otherwise remarkable video clip (or whatever) is an actual moment that transpired somewhere in the world today, and so forget the rest of the day's events and just imagine what it was like to be in that spot at that time.

That said, curtm's take seems at least equally plausible.
posted by gompa at 11:21 PM on July 22, 2005

The Craig Kilborn version was much more along the non-sequitur line, and that's the style that has been adopted in the web culture.
posted by abcde at 11:32 PM on July 22, 2005

"Moments of Zen" are a reference to the concept of Satori.

That said, this rampant Buddhasploitation and general Orientalism is just terrible.
posted by blasdelf at 12:07 AM on July 23, 2005

Abuse of "zen" in popular Western culture used to annoy me, until I realized how much worse abuse it gets in Japan. Now I'm much more tolerant of it. Xeni Jardin takes it so far into absurdity that it comes out a bit stupid, but the Daily Show meaning seems useful enough.
posted by sfenders at 5:44 AM on July 23, 2005

I've found all of what Jardin does is absurd and dumb.
posted by docgonzo at 7:01 AM on July 23, 2005

A French perfumer with a nose and a palindrome would be a zen-nez, no?
posted by ozziemaland at 10:08 AM on July 23, 2005

Y'all are missing something important here - not that the linked posts are any indication, but previously most of the "zen" posts were links to things found via web zen, and included a link to the web zen home page. Xeni seems to have since appropriated the phrase for posts unrelated to web zen itself. (I'm assuming you haven't actually seen this anywhere else, chrismear, as even though you say "blogs" you only link to boing boing.)

Other than that, I think we've all got the gist of it - it's a moment of reflection on the particular thing that is the subject of that post (London, truth in advertising, couture, etc.) - and though I wouldn't bet on web zen having picked it up from the Daily Show (circa Craig Kilborn), I wouldn't rule it out either.
posted by attercoppe at 7:08 PM on July 23, 2005

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