Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gain and Loss

Gain and Loss
by Scott Bradley


Fa-yen pointed to the bamboo blinds and two monks rolled them up. "One gains; one loses," Fa-yen remarked. (The Gateless Barrier; Aitken!)

That the sage gives no thought to gain or loss is a recurrent theme in both Zen and philosophical Taoism. Like right and wrong, it is one of those fundamental attributes of the discriminating mind which, by virtue of the very fetters in which it holds us, can show us a radically different possibility. It is possible to transcend it altogether. It is possible to realize that there is neither gain nor loss, that there is nothing to gain or lose. This is Zhuangzi’s "hiding the world in the world", seeing all in All. It is Zhouzi's "all is well".

I honestly think I 'realize' this. Yes, but I confess I haven't realized it; it isn't how I live. Not to worry! Nothing is lost, apart from a bit of temporal peace, of course.

There is the story about the man whose son breaks his leg and the neighbor says, What a misfortune. The man replies, You never know. Then the military arrives to forcibly induct the youth, and the son with the broken leg gets passed over. What fortune, says the neighbor. You never know, replies the man. And so it goes through several permutations. The lesson is that we should not judge what we cannot know and by this attachment to gain and loss cause ourselves unnecessary worry. This is good advice, but it isn't transcendence.

Commenting on this 'case', Wu-men says, "When they [the blinds] are rolled up the sky is bright and clear, but the great sky still does not match our Way. Why don't you throw away the sky completely?" This is to truly realize freedom from gain and loss.

May I presume to suggest you bring your heart here before this gate? Understanding how we are ruled by our belief in gain and loss we are brought before that unfathomable precipice which separates us from that other shore. And in that way we begin to get an inkling of what this enlightenment-talk is all about.

Fa-yen was speaking facetiously, I believe. The two monks performed the same act and with the same awareness. Gain and loss are likewise the same. Up and down, open and closed, light and dark — they are also the same. And yes, living in the dark, clinging to the bright sky or throwing it away, these, too, are the same.

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

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