Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Sage Is No One

The Sage Is No One
by Scott Bradley


The sage is no one.
You hoped for a blazing star?

The sage behaves as he does.
You expected a paragon of virtue?

The sage cares not for appearances,
nor a known sage to be.

What does it mean that the sage is not
what you would have her be?

The final question in this saying of Chen Jen is the heart of the matter. Whatever image we have of what a sage should be speaks more about who we are than how a theoretical sage actually might be. The question assumes that we wish to at least approximate the character of a sage. If you do not, well, then these words are not for you. Perhaps you are already free of the folly of wanting-to-be. This may mean you are yourself a sage. Or it may mean you have yet to experience the unraveling and un-becoming of a growing self-awareness.

What we expect in a sage reveals a great deal about the nature of our own bondage. We want that a sage should wow us; we would like to wow others. We want that a sage be serene and holy; there is a right way to be. We would have a sage behave just so, because we are bound by concepts. They may be concepts tempered by the discrimination of right and wrong, but they are first and foremost just ideas. Ideas are not reality and only serve to insulate us from a direct experience of reality. They mediate. And mediation is a necessary tool. But they do not touch the thing-in-itself.

The paintings we have of Zen masters by Zen masters are, I suspect, no mere iconography. What might be the point of these imaginary depictions of the legendary Bodhidharma? Study them. He glares at us. Is he mad? He is a heavy bearded barbarian from out of the West (India). Inscrutable. Unapproachable. He is a slap in the face of our sensibilities, our preconceived ideas of how things should be.

Lin-chi, hoe in hand, glares at us over his shoulder. Whatta want? You lookin' at me? Get on with your own work, and I'll get on with my own. I'm not you, and you won't find yourself in me. Nor am I who you imagine me to be. If he had his staff, he might crack us a good one.

There is the story of how a young monk, after hearing his master screaming most unnervingly at his death at the hands of robbers, despaired that he had not been so holy after all. You silly fellow, remonstrated a senior monk, he screamed because he was being murdered. It was a great scream! Get over mentally boxing yourself and others in a crate labeled how-things-should-be.

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

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