Saturday, October 14, 2017

Etched in Pencil

I once heard someone say, “If it ain’t a paradox, it ain’t true.” If you’re a Zen practitioner, you’re on board with that. A twist on that would be that would be the opposite is true—you practice Zen and hate paradox, but thats it must be true. Kong-ans are often used as a means to help the Zennist get past conceptual thought, which can also be before conceptual thought. And no thought doesn’t actually mean no thought literally, just not having THAT kind of thought, or at least not being attached to thinking thoughts. But it also means that if you do have THAT kind of thought, that’s OK too, so long as you don’t attach to it, and if you do, don’t attach to non-attachment..

On one hand, the Heart Sutra says “No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind,” and likewise there being “no sight, no hearing, no smell, no taste, no touch,” “no object of sight, and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.” It even starts with Avalokiteshvara perceiving that “all five skandhas are empty,” and slightly later perceiving that perceptions are empty too. Lest we forget, there’s “nothing to attain” followed shortly by fearless Bodhisattvas “attain anutara samyak sambodhi.” To top that off, to paraphrase to Diamond Sutra, “all this is not-this, thus is it called “this.” What about the other hand? The kong-an asks “what is the sound of one hand?”

Still other teachings say with equal validity, “just seeing, just hearing, just smelling,” and so forth until “just” thinking. Is Zen teaching  so non-committal that it can’t decide on what the teaching is? Today it’s this and not that, tomorrow it’s that and not this, the next days it’s this and that, and on the next day after it’s anything but this and that. Throw in Bodhidharma saying that the Great Way is beyond words, which he said with words, and has subsequently been written down for people to read and quote, which some then take as an excuse not to read Sutras, but Bodhidharma quotes are fine, Cleary’s translation of the Buddha’s Flower Garland Sutra is about 1400 pages long, and the Buddha’s Flower Sermon involves no words, just holding up a flower, Mahakashyapa smiling, and thus the transmission of the true Dharma Eye in Zen is born...and you could just as easily say that it’s also beyond birth and death, as its “thusness” is beyond impermanence. 

Zen is equal parts One Mind and No Mind, but without any sort of dividing line between the two, because there’s no separation, and even saying “equal parts” implies the possibility that there’s an “or” rather than an “and,” and that’s not quite right either, because they’re not separate, even to the point where using the word “they’re” implies a “them” plurality, which clearly there isn’t, because the 10,000 return to the 1, and where does the 1 return, and to call it an “it” is not correct. Got it? What have you got, and what’s doing the getting?

All that Zen points to is that we pay attention, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, boxing in a ring of quicksand where sinking is just as good as staying afloat. As the late Myozan Keegan once said to me, “take the teaching seriously, but carry it lightly.” The teachings, the Dharma, and life itself, are not etched in stone but rather etched in pencil, and it’s one with an eraser. I’ll leave it to the reader’s discretion of what “one with an eraser” means, bearing in mind that what it means now will likely mean something else tomorrow...or not.