Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Attainment of Non-Attainment

The Attainment of Non-Attainment
by Scott Bradley

"What is your own attainment of non-attainment?"

This is a question posed by Robert Aitken in his discussion of the ninth koan in Wu-men's Mumonkan. So, now I discuss. But it might be better if you just took his question into your day and simply discussed it with yourself.

Personally, I find this question of staggering import — more so than the koan to which it responds. It may well be that I do not even understand its intended meaning — no matter, perhaps misunderstanding is a more effective upaya ('skillful means') than understanding. When has understanding ever been the point?

I might paraphrase Aitken's question thus: How aware are you that you are It? That it is already true of you? That all is well? At this very moment?

Aitken is a Zen roshi. He has his agenda. There is something to attain beyond the realization of non-attainment. Yet I think he might agree that the attainment of non-attainment is itself the attainment of that which is non-attained.

I suppose I ought to present the koan here. I paraphrase: A monk asks Ch'ing-jang why it is that a Buddha did zazen for kalapas without attaining Buddhahood. His answer is twofold. First, the question is itself the answer. (Why do you ask why?) Secondly, "Because he is a nonattained Buddha." (Because it is so. And it does not matter. He is a Buddha nonetheless.)

Do you feel the gap between yourself and attainment? You have not attained non-attainment. You have not realized this intrinsically perfect moment of your existence. But not to worry, not even non-attainment of non-attainment matters; there is nothing to attain. Not-one is also One.

Just so you know my "All is well" has the authority of a roshi behind it, I quote Aitken from this same context: "To realize the mind is to find that everything is alright." (So there.) And again: "We are just fine as we are. But the monk's question remains: 'Why don't I get it?'"

Yes, indeed, “Why don’t I get it?” I like this question because it would seem to have some answers. Because I think there is a right and wrong way to be. Because other people also think this, and I want other people to esteem me as being the right way to be. “Who can free himself from achievement and fame, descend and be lost amid the masses of men?...his boat is empty.”

Yes, but, “Why don’t I get it?”

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. Aloha and mahalo for getting the name right! You might also note that the good roshi from Hawaii died just a year and a month ago at 93 years of age. I regret that I never met him.

  2. I love these kind of thought paths.


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