Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Yes, But...

Just when you think you've finally wrapped around one of the teachings of the Great Way, you hear, "Yes, but..." And then you think you have an idea of what "Yes, but..." means, and then it's followed by another, "Yes, but..." And yet, for some reason, I'm somehow compelled to write something about it, although expecting that by the end of it that you'll see any answer might be misguidedly optimistic.

I'm one of those people that considers the "The a Heart Sutra" to be more important as a chant than a teaching piece of prose. That goes back to when I had absolutely no idea what any of it meant. "No eyes, no ears, no nose..." "OK, you say so, but I'm busy trying to follow the tempo of the wooden fish." I think it took me around 3 years before I could pronounce "Avalokiteshvara" without stumbling, and considering that's the opening of the Sutra, let's just say it's not a great way to start a chant. If nothing else chanting it (and any other chant for that matter) really forces the chanter into a state of pure concentration, intense listening, blending voices together at the same time as they're still individual voices if you listen closely enough for that also. "Form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form...." actually falls into the same category of, "Yes, but..."

The problem is that if it's left there, one might leave it as reifying both form and emptiness as "things." Either a teacher, or some serious spontaneous insight is required to get past that trap. My experience is that the Diamond Sutra has helped do that. The Vajra Prajnà Pàramità Sutra--the Diamond of the Perfection of wisdom, the Diamond that cuts through all delusion,  is a wonderful text, especially with a Great Teacher to help cut through it. Even the cutting through needs to be cut through. We can probably "get" the Two Truths of Relative and Absolute, at least on an intellectual level. Getting past that isn't so easy, yet it is fairly simple. Of course, most Zen teaching is actually fairly simple. Intellectual knowledge is nice, nothing wrong with learning things, unless one starts to believe that the knowledge is equivalent to wisdom. Bodhidharma pointed to that by reducing it down to True Nature, saying what that isn't as much as what it is. Just as the path of the Great Way involves fewer steps that more (none falling into the fewer category), Zen practice is reductive rather than additive.

The beauty of the Diamond Sutra is that it does pull that off, at least in my estimation. It's still verbal, and therefore limited, but the Buddha keeps peeling the layers of delusion away. At first slowly, then by the end, he doesn't just peel, he slashes with the Diamond Sword of Wisdom. The Buddha even says (a number of times) that memorizing spreading the message of just four lines results in substantial merit. Pick four lines out of 32 chapters, internalize them, and be able to explain them in an accurate way, and bingo, that's it. Granted, even doing that isn't so easy. Involving intellect and conceptual thought about it won't be of any value. They most certainly need to go under the Diamond blade.

Every talk I give it seems, ends up getting back to the Bodhisattva. Even if I don't plan on that, it ends up there. At a couple points, namely Chapters 17 & 25, the Buddha even slashes through the "Bodhisattva." Not only is it erroneous to think that there is such a thing (dharma) as a Bodhisattva, it's also erroneous to think that there either are, or are not beings, saving, and rescuing. He says that all beings are no-beings, "thus are they called 'beings'." Form, emptiness, then true vision. It's very much like ZM Seung Sahn's compass of Zen, starting with only viewing form as form, then moving on to "form is emptiness," then to "emptiness is form," and hitting 360 degrees at, "thus are they called 'beings'." It isn't just Relative and Absolute. It isn't just the non-duality of "no-self," it goes past that. Not only does it point to "not two,"  but it covers "not one" as well, then slashes that to that there aren't "one" or "two."

This on the surface may seem exceedingly paradoxical, and as a piece of prose, there is certainly no arguing that. It can also be profoundly disturbing on one level as well. Seeing the interdependence of all dharmas (the Absolute) and their lack of self, is one thing. But then one finds out that not only is the Relative delusion, but reifying the Absolute is as well. A Great Teacher of mine, when discussing the teaching of the Diamond Sutra asked me, "What does the Fearless Bodhisattva have to stand on?" After some fumbling through "this shore," "the other shore," and a few other conceptual answers, it finally came out: "Nothing." Another Great Teacher uses "beyond non-duality" as a way to put the same thing. This is disturbing! You finally get to the point of the Absolute, then you're told there isn't an Absolute. All those teachings of the Dharma you thought you could fall back on, not that either.

Get the relationship between Relative and Absolute? "Yes, but..." See that "form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form?" "Yes, but..." "Beings are no-beings?" "Yes, but..." The "nothing to stand on," the "absolute nothingness," the "beyond non-duality," that's where true freedom lies. It's "no-thing" to stand on. Comparing duality and non-duality is in itself dualistic. (Vimalakirti nailed it with "_____.") Of course, saying any of this also falls into "Yes, but...." But given the freedom of this freedom from not being concerned about all these concepts, allows us the freedom to go out into the marketplace with open arms, and save all sentient beings. Freedom? "Yes, but...." Freedom! The freedom to accept even, "Yes, but...

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