Zen Buddhism First Approximation Part Two - Fritz the Cat

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Zen Buddhism
First Approximation - Part Two

Anyone reading the various threads of my argument probably senses that they are converging.  I said as much in the Dark Side part 2.  In both the 3 rd approximation to Heidegger part 1 and the first approximation to Zen part 1 I ended by affirming the position long held by religious thinkers (the authors of the Acts of the Apostles, Martin Luther, D.T. Suzuki, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, others) that in religious truth, belief proceeds evidence.  Truth is a difficult topic, but central to all three strands, each of which is a different view of truth, which should aid in understanding.

What follows is taken from "Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series" by D.T. Suzuki.

Suzuki is the author of more than 100 books on Zen in both Japanese and English.  In the forward to this "Essays" book he begins by assuming, along with many other modern Western theologians that all religious thought arises from the same fountain.  In order to allow his Western readers, presumably Christian, to relate to and be more comfortable with Zen he begins by giving an Enlightenment interpretation of the Bible.

(pg. 46)  "For dogmatics is not necessarily concerned with the historical facts which are rather secondary in importance compared to the religious truth of Christianity:  the latter is what ought to be rather than what is or was".  Christianity has lost much force since the European Enlightenment usurped the religious truth with scientific truth.  Science has done much to relieve physical suffering, but its insistence on putting evidence before belief has undermined religious truth and so increased spiritual suffering.  Religious truth will play fast and loose with historical truth in the effort to relieve spiritual suffering; what ought to be true is affirmed in the pursuit of belief, bedrock of spiritual peace, of moral behavior for many, and even for the relief of physical illness.  Sceptics in regard to this last point need to reconsider faith healing and the scientific efficacy of placebos.

Zen Buddhist dogmatics state that true belief and evidence co-occur in the same flash of intuition, which must be proceeded, however, by the practice of meditation, sometimes for years, obviously a matter of some faith.  But meditation, like prayer, can rest easy in a secular life, giving a measure of tranquility without the demand for results or evidence, and perhaps in some ordinary day or in some day of crisis bursting forth like lightening from a clear blue sky in Buddhist Enlightenment or Christian Grace, and the religious truth is known beyond a shadow of a doubt and any other truth falls in importance.

Religion must renew itself.  This the Catholics do with their infrequent Vatican Councils, Protestants do with their frequent creation of new sects, and the Zen Buddhists do with Enlightenment, which results in a changed Dharma.  (pg. 50) (The Buddha) called his way of looking at the world and life "Dharma"…  The Dharma was ever maturing, because it was mysteriously creative".  Mystery and creation are perhaps definitive of spirituality, without them the fountain dries up.

Meditation is essential in Buddhism, but the understanding of what meditation is has changed over the centuries.  The Buddha himself had become dissatisfied with the meditation taught to him by his two Brahmin Masters, its focus on erasing all thought resulting in mental tranquility but nothing else.  There must be more, and the Buddha resolved to sit in meditation until he discovered it.  (pg.127)  His song of Enlightenment starts:  "All conqueror I, knower of all,/  From every soil and stain released,/  Renouncing all, from craving ceased,/  Self-taught; whom shall I Master call?"  It continues in this same vein.

Initially the Buddha was convinced that "Folk with lust and hate consumed" could not "grasp the truth (Dharma), so deep, subtle, difficult, delicate", and he wished to pass on to Nirvana without attempting to propagate his Dharma, (pg. 121).  Then the Great Brahma spoke and convinced him to stay on earth and help release "the nations sunken in grief, oppressed in birth and age".

In a parallel, perhaps, to Christ`s disciples on Pentecost day (Acts 2: 8) when they spoke in their (Galilean) language "and were heard by every man in his own (foreign) language", we read (pg. 53)  "The Buddha preached and was heard by every man according to his own experience, insuring that the spiritual message matured with mankind".

The outward form of meditation is unimportant in Zen.  Time spent getting the Western body accustomed to the full lotus is time wasted.  Meditation can be done in a chair, a bed, or even walking.  What is important is earnest contemplation (Sanskrit- samadhi).  (pg.82)  "great becomes the fruit, great the advantage of intellect, when it is set round with earnest contemplation.  …..Samadhi and dhyana (meditation) are to a great extent synonymous and interchangeable, but strictly Samadhi is a psychological state realized by the exercise of dhyana.  The latter is the process, the former the goal".

Earnest contemplation is not easily done.  Zen literature speaks of seekers in the grip of meditation with sweat flowing from every pore of their body.  Perhaps a similar experience would be the Christian mystic with his mind focused exclusively on God, his only thought "not my will,   Lord, but thine be done".  Completely open, completely accepting.  (we read pg. 124) "(Intellection,) is always dualistic in that it is always cognizant of subject and object, but in prajana (intuition) which is exercised in union with one-thought-viewing there is no separation between knower and known, they are viewed in one thought and enlightenment is the outcome of this."  (and further pg. 125-26) "in viewing all qualities in one thought , which finally cuts off the hopelessly entangling logical mesh by merging all differences and likenesses into the absolute oneness of knower and known.  This however, in our practical dualistic life, is a reversion, a twisting, and a readjustment.   Enlightenment must, therefore, involve the will as well as the intellect.  It is an act of intuition born of the will".

"Intellection", running down logical arguments, adding up pros and cons, rehearsing controversies, etc., is not contemplation, samadhi.  Samadhi is a psychological state unique to earnest contemplation.  It is the holding of all aspects of the questioned "why" in front of the mind in unity for as long as it takes.  The Buddha held all aspects of human suffering, birth, sickness, old age, death, in front of the why question for a week of earnest contemplation, one-thought-viewing, and came out a master of himself and the world, released from the endless round of the birth and death of the never ending petty conversation the mind holds with itself, and released from the karmic bad habits passed down from parents to children seemingly without cease.

Intuitive knowledge, enlightenment, exists in a world apart from Western logic.  Logic, like intellection, is the death of enlightenment.  The four Defilements that prevent enlightenment are (page 142) Desire, Existence, Ignorance, and Intellection.  If Desire is thought of as lust, then it is rightly avoided, but if desire is considered abstractly, as the desire for absolutely anything, then it is not part of Zen.  Is not the desire to know "why" the heart of Zen?  Did not the Buddha "will" his enlightenment when he sat under the bodhi tree?

Another defilement is Ignorance, not cognitive ignorance, such as not knowing a fact or theory, but the darkness of spiritual outlook (pg 128)  "In Ignorance knowing is separated from acting, and the knower from that which is known; in Ignorance the world is asserted as distinct from the self…Ignorance is the fundamental condition of cognition."  Ignorance partakes of every cognitive knowing in which there is a knower and a known, because this knower is unknown, a mystery.  The knower can never know itself, which is Ignorance, "Ignorance is brought to subjection only by going beyond its own principle.  This is an act of the will."

In this section of the book Suzuki explains and enlarges on the Buddha´s Enlightenment.  The will, the original life faculty, blind from birth, senses its ability to split off a part of itself and charge it with the task of explaining the will to itself.  Consciousness, freed from the will, choses instead to know the outside world.

This motif of a power splitting itself and later being overcome by its offspring is a recurring theme of mythology, as examined by Otto Rank.  Rank didn´t deal with Eastern religion, but with Germanic myths of the Middle Ages, as collected by the Grimm brothers.  This topic is treated further in my paper on brainwashing at www.fritzthecat.net.  Freud also uses this idea in his explanation of the emergence of civilization from the primal horde when the sons of the primal (alpha male) father band together and force the father to share access to the females, the Freudian origin of the family.  But recall that Freud was a scientist in the service of dualism.

These accounts of pre-historic and even pre-conscious goings on carry an aura of children´s just so stories popularized my writers such as Rudyard Kipling.  Modern, Darwinian explanations for the emergence of consciousness, and with it the intellect, would no doubt be more satisfying to the modern (dualistic) mind, but the Buddha, and Suzuki, and in their way Rank and Freud, were dealing with religious truth teleologically justified by the goal, and not by empirical evidence.

The religious truth that the Buddha saw clearly in his enlightenment was that the mind was a whole, and that the separate self, a.k.a. soul, was an illusion and Ignorance (pg 137), "and that this vanquishing of Ignorance cannot be achieved except by the exercise of will power."  Spiritual truth is what ought to be.  Self-interest interferes with spiritual peace and spiritual harmony, yet the ego retains mastery over the will.  Enlightenment, carrying its own religious conviction, vanquishes the self as illusory, clearing the way for peace and harmony.

The Buddha lays out the path to a non-dualistic Dharma (pg 142):  "What is before thee, lay it aside/  Let there be nothing behind thee/  If thou will not grasp at what is in the middle/  Thou will wander calm."   And further   "He for whom there is neither this side nor that side, nor both, him, the unshackled, I call indeed a Brahman."

This is echoed by thoughts from the New Testament (Mt. 7:  32-34), "for your Heavenly Father knows that you have need of things.  But sleekest ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all things shall be added to you.  Take no thought of the morrow:  for the morrow shall take care of the things of itself.  Sufficient unto today is the evil thereof.  (2 Cor. 6:1-2), we then, as workers today with him, beseech you also that you receive not the Grace of God in vain…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  And from the Old Testament (Lamentations 3:  22-23), It is because of the Lord`s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassion faileth not.  They are new every morning.

This is the call of all mystic, intuitive revelations:  life is lived in the present moment, in between a past that is forever gone and a future that never comes.  Now is the accepted time of salvation; for nature´s mercies never fail, they are made new every morning.  Life is eternal in the everlasting now, and time ends when you do.  What more could anyone ask?  

(pg. 143)  To enter into one-thought-seeing which is intuitive or spiritual knowledge and Enlightenment, one must, by an act of will, free oneself from the burdens of yesterday and the ambitions and obligations of tomorrow and flow with nature without trying to stop or grasp it.  As Moses counseled his followers (Deuteronomy 4: 29):  "But if from hence thou shall seek the Lord thy God, thou shall find Him, if thou sleekest Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul."  The oneness of nature can be seen in the vision of the moment, when indeed nothing else can be seen.  Becoming one with that moment in one-thought-seeing is Enlightenment.
Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch, counsels us to consider deeply the things of everyday life.  In one-thought-seeing there must be something to be thought of, something to be seen.  Clearing the mind of all thought, as the Buddha recognized, may lead to mental tranquility, but it does not lead to enlightenment (pg 147):  "without knowledge there is no meditation, without meditation there is no knowledge:  he who has knowledge and meditation is near unto Nirvana" (Dharmapada v. 372).  (pg 148-9)  (The Buddha´s) general disciplinary scheme is given to (the disciples) under three headings:  morality, meditation, and intuitive knowledge…When intuitive knowledge is awakened in us, morality is abandoned, meditation is left behind, and there remains only the Enlightened state of consciousness in which the spirit moveth as it listeth… Like unto a raft, all dharmas indeed must be abandoned, much more un-dharmas!...this is the dharma of non-attachment…(having) passed on to Nirvana…there is no further use for a raft, therefore, if thou like, rain, O sky.  

Both Buddhism and Christianity contain a parable of a prodigal son who leaves home, wanders until near ruin, then returns home.  Zen explicates the psychological truth behind the parable:  the will has split off part of itself to go out into time to awaken a thought.  (pg 153-4)  ..to the prodigal son…wandering seems to have been altogether unnecessary…(but) after returning one is no longer the same person as before…The will, after its excursion through time-consciousness, is God himself.  (The time wandering is necessary to) the awakening of a thought…the awakening of consciousness-a split in the will, which now, besides being actor, is knower.  The knower, however, gradually grows to be the spectator and critic, and even aspires to be the dictator and ruler.

With this arises the tragedy of life, which the Buddha makes the basis of the Fourfold Nobel Truth.  That pain is life itself as it is lived by most of us, is the plain, undisguised statement of facts.  This all comes from Ignorance, from our consciousness not being fully enlightened as to its nature, mission, and function in relation to the will.  Consciousness must first be reduced to the will when it begins to work out its "original vows" in obedience to its true master.  The awakening of a thought marks the beginning of Ignorance and its condition.  When this is vanquished "a thought" is reduced to the will, which is enlightenment.  Enlightenment is therefore is a returning.

The Christian version of the prodigal son is more symbolical:  "Creation" is the awakening of consciousness, or the awakening of a thought; the Fall is the consciousness going astray from its original path; God´s idea of sending his own son among us is the desire of the will to see itself through its own offspring, consciousness; crucifixion is the transcending of the dualism of acting and knowing, which comes from the awakening of the intellect; and finally resurrection means the will´s triumph over the intellect-in other words seeing itself in and through consciousness.  After resurrection there is no more blind striving, nor is the intellect merely watching the dancer dance…transcending the category of time.  Buddhism attempts to achieve salvation in one act of the will; for returning effaces all traces of time (pg 157).  The sense of returning to something familiar…really means the will getting settled once more in its old abode, after many an venturesome wandering, with an immense treasure of experience now, and full of wisdom that will light up its unending career.

There is a Zen parable that goes "after having climbed the 1000 foot Zen pole, and standing with a peerless gaze surveying the surroundings on all sides, what do you do next?  Step forward.

Heidegger became from an early age a seeker after religious truth.  At some point, I have a hunch, he had a religious experience, a "welling up" from within that makes all things new, enlightenment, and turned from a life of understanding the world to a life of creating the world.

There is in the construction industry a questioning of the level of experience a new job applicant may have.  The job seeker relates his perceived level of competence; usually erring on the high side, for this is a negotiation for wages.  To be a successful interviewer you must possess a high degree of competence in the job to be filled, otherwise you risk hiring an incompetent who you must then train or fire, someone with only a superficial understanding of the job, picked up from bar talk or maybe a brother-in-law, a bull-shit artist.

On the construction site the new hire is introduced to the crew, each of whom is thinking "well, he can ´talk the talk´, now to see if he can ´walk the walk´.  A friend interviewed for a job as an experienced iron worker, a highly paid job.  The interviewer handed him the safety harness every iron worker gets into before climbing into the structure under construction.  The harness is somewhat complicated, and my friend was trying to bull-shit his way into a good job.  After fumbling with the harness for a minute the interviewer said "you ain´t no experienced iron worker, get out".  He couldn’t even ‘talk the talk’.  Another friend passed the interview, and on the first morning on the job was told to attach a flag to the highest point on the structure, which he did, showing that he could ‘walk the walk’.

Mysticism speaks of a point where there is nothing left to do but to leap into the darkness.  Heidegger speaks of the leap into the new beginning, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra speaks of ‘leaping over the high wire artist’, a Zen adept must at some point step off the 1000 foot pole.  This is the abyss, this is the gateless wall.  This is the invisible barrier separating those who can ‘talk the talk’ and those who must ‘walk the walk’.  This is the invisible barrier separating theory from practice.

Every child is shown what it is to be part of this world.  Later, through some mystery, ever adolescent begins questioning authority.  "At 15 I began questioning.  At 30 I knew where I stood".  (Luther?)  Crisis points appear in this vale of tears when nothing makes sense, time seems out of joint, leading sensitive souls to contemplate deeply the meaning of it all, and ambitious bull-shit artists to calculate how to best profit personally.

When everything has been made new, and there is no one to lead the way, the authentic man must, if he has faith, step off the pole and into the abyss, out of theory and into life.  He must ‘walk the walk’.  Heidegger wrote a theory to end all theories, but as he himself noted, and the charm school graduate found out, no theory can encompass the myriad of lessons learned from living the life everyone lives every day.  The Zen journeyman gets 30 blows if the master detects the stink of Zen from an inauthentic enlightenment.  Heidegger stepped into the abyss of National Socialism, partaking of the stink of authenticity, he abjured his own good counsel and became part of the ‘they’, and the world shuddered and still shudders.  Heidegger didn`t create that stink, but he participated in it.

This is the dark side of every religion.  There is a line between good and evil.  The line doesn’t run between national borders, or between religious theologies, or between political ideologies.  The line runs down the middle of the soul of every man (Solzhenitsyn?).  How difficult to tell if someone is a genuine seeker of truth or an insincere seeker after a seat on the gravy train.  No less difficult is to sound the depths of one´s own being.

The line is an illusion created by the dualistic mind.  The line is Ignorance of the unity between knower and known.  Ignorance is talking the talk, Enlightenment is walking the walk.  You can talk the dharma talk, and you can walk the dharma walk.  There is a line between talking the talk and walking the walk.  In Enlightenment the line dissolves and your every act speaks for itself, you become your dharma.

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