Xuedou: Two Too Many
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Xuedou told this story which I paraphrase:
A bunch of Zen masters came together to strengthen their individual understanding. Among them was one who was thought to be more advanced than the rest, and when he said nothing, another complained saying, "It would be enough to hear the two words 'Absolute Truth'."I find this story inventive, amusing and insightful. There are several 'two's' in it: There are two masters, two words, and the two statements of the silent master. Which are the rat droppings?
The silent master heard of this and said, "There's not even a single word to say about 'Absolute Truth'." Then, regretting having said even this, he said, "It was pointless to say that."
Yet another master overheard this and said, "A fine pot of soup, befouled by two rat droppings."
Xuedou concludes: "Whose pot hasn't one or two droppings in it?" (Zen Essence; Cleary)
The primary reference, I think, is to the two statements. It may very well have been best if the previously silent master had remained so, but his first statement became a dropping only after the second; he second guessed himself. He 'wobbled'. Not only is Zen intended to express itself in spontaneous utterances ("samadhi-power"), but those utterances are meant to stand on their own, without apology. A hem and a haw make two rat droppings.
What is the cause of this 'wobbling'? For me, it is the internalization and rule of right and wrong, motivated by the desire to externally 'please' others and internally 'please' myself. Why do I want to 'say the right thing'? To be seen as good and wise that I might think myself as such. There is also the perpetual deliberation and discrimination within which reveals a divided self. Zen would have us brush both the angel and the devil off our shoulders and into the dustbin. Stand united. Be yourself. Forget opinion.
As for the "two words", Fenyang said, "When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much." "Absolute Truth" is not a concept which I appreciate in any case, but if we think of it as "realized understanding", that is, as experience, it is more palatable. Yet, no objectification of this experience in word is possible, so these two words are also rat turds — even for those that believe they have experienced it.
Personally, I cannot see how any experience, however profound, could be called either 'Absolute' or "Truth'. Get real. Perhaps you tire of me quoting Zhuangzi's 'formula', but here it cuts like a knife: "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt is the sage's only map." I would very much like to experience what seems to be 'Absolute Truth', but I would hope I knew better than to call it such.
Then there are the two masters. Are they also rat droppings? They would be, if their respective ripostes were intended as a means toward self-aggrandizement, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt — we seem to need to believe in saints, in any case.
And yet, "Whose pot doesn't have one or two droppings in it?" You mean the enlightened ones are not perfect?! So much for Absolute anything. How liberating.
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