Zen 101

Friday, March 02, 2012

Philosophy or Not

With respect,

Good Morning Everyone,

“Mahamati, what I speak of as eternal and inconceivable is eternal because it is based on the attribute of personal realization and because it transcends the existence and non-existence of what is created. …As this (such discussions) distracts people from the attainment of personal realization of the realm of buddha knowledge, it is not worth talking about.” The Buddha, The Lankavatara Sutra, Red Pine trans., p. 91.

In section XVII of the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha addresses the question of the eternal and inconceivable first cause. In very few lines he makes short work of First Cause schools, essentially denying creation ex nihilo. Further, as in the above quote, he flatly says such discussions are not worth talking about as they are distractions from our real purpose which is the personal realization of the truth.

At first blush we might say, “What?” Discussion leads to the truth. After all, this is what all philosophy is founded upon. But the Buddha is making a point that discussion is in service to projection and therefore, acts as a smoke screen to clear mind.

Those of us new to Zen often come loaded with books, the two Suzuki’s, a few Dalai Lamas, and maybe a copy or two of Brad Warner in a bag. We know what we are talking about! Yet, this is it exactly. We know what we are talking about, but what we are talking about is not it. As they say in Maine, you cannot get there from here.

Study in the Zen sense is not intellectual, but practical. It is the practical application of everyday mindfulness, through body, speech, and mind. Discussion of concepts is just discussion of concepts: it gets us no closer to the moon than the end of a finger pointing to it. Yet, we are seemingly addicted to our need to converse, communicate, and so on.

On the other hand, in an earlier part of the same sutra, the Buddha points out that he must use many means to teach and says in verse, “Thus, my teachings are diverse/ tailored to the situation/ if a teaching doesn’t fit/ then it isn’t taught. Because each patient differs/ good physicians adjust their cures/ buddhas thus teach beings/ according to their capacities.” The Buddha, The Lankavatara Sutra, p. 79.

So, it would seem we could consider discussions of concepts, theories, and even conversations regarding First Cause as useful provided these are understood as skilful means toward creating conditions within which (through our practice) we find personal realization.

As Red Pine notes of this section, “Amen.”

Be well.

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