The Most Intimate
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Fa-yen was about to leave the monastery on a pilgrimage. Ti-tsang asked him, "What do you expect from pilgrimage?" "I don't know," replied Fa-yen. "Not-knowing is most intimate," commented Ti-tsang. (The Gateless Barrier; Aitken)
Fa-yen did not leave that day or the next when he was again questioned by Ti-tsang. Instead, he decided he had more to learn at that time with Ti-tsang than he did on the road. What was that? I don't know. But it would probably have to do with the intimacy of not-knowing.
Intimacy is a kind of knowing, but one which has little to do with fact or content. It is experiential. It is closeness which verges on oneness. It is the understanding which Zhuangzi tells us goes beyond understanding and is realized only when understanding stops. Every attempt to discuss it must therefore necessarily be by way of metaphor.
We know that words and ideas are not reality. Only direct experience touches reality. But it cannot give it a name.
It is probably this fundamental starting place of not-knowing which won me over to the teaching of Zhuangzi. It is an idea, to be sure, but it is something to be experienced, as well. But not-knowing, as merely a cognitive confession of knowing nothing, is not intimacy. The intimacy of which Ti-tsang speaks is that understanding which lies beyond understanding.
Not-knowing is also I kind of method. It is an exercise in honesty. The more honest we become, the more naked and vulnerable we become. The conquest of self-deceit can be a frightening endeavor. One is always left with nothing, but even nothing is nothing to be grasped.
Who am I? I do not know. It would be more comforting to answer, No one. At least that would provide something to believe. I could contemplate mu (negation; nothingness) believing that reality is empty and enlightenment is found therein. But not-knowing disallows belief in even Being and Non-being, or what would profess to transcend them.
As method, not-knowing leads me to openness, surrender, affirmation and trust. I'm not sure why. It just seems the natural expression of life. And that, I think, is the most fundamental attribute of this Taoist way — allowing life to express itself without the mediation of reasons, purpose, or belief. It is just letting whatever may be, be. What need is there to know what it is or is not?
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.