Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rivers as Rivers

Scott Bradley

"Rivers are rivers, mountains are mountains." This is part of a well-worn anecdotal story about stages in the spiritual journey of an aspirant of . . . Tao. It is found in various forms in both the Zhuangzi and in Zen literature.

The disciple goes through three stages of awareness. First, he sees the rivers as rivers and the mountains as mountains. Then he realizes that they are not what they seem; he sees the emptiness of all things. Nothing is real as imagined. Finally, he joins them in their emptiness, becomes the emptiness he already is, and now the rivers are rivers and mountains are mountains once again. All things are united in the vastness.

We know, then we don't know, and then we know again in an entirely new way. This is essentially what I think Zhuangzi was about with his critique of understanding (zhi). The "understanding consciousness" is conceptual; it believes it knows what's what. When it discovers that it does not know what's what, when it "knows when to stop", consciousness becomes the experience of a new kind of knowing in which all things are embraced as was previously impossible.

The dualistic understanding wherein distinctions are made between the ‘spiritual’ and the mundane, between nirvana and samsara, and yes, between dualistic and non-dualistic consciousness, does not survive transcendence.

But where does one begin? If dualism and non-dualism are the same in the ultimate vision, is one mistaken to seek the latter? Not at all; one seeks the non-dual perspective so as to realize their essential unity. Only one is pre-informed of that unity and this transforms the entire enterprise from one which re-enforces the dualistic perspective through the negation of the mundane, to one which affirms even that which it seeks to transform.

All this is just re-stating what is, for me at least, a fundamental point of departure: The place to begin any effort at transformation is the affirmation of whatever presently “is”. The way to the transcendence of self begins in the affirmation of self. To do this in truth is already to transcend self, for it is not an act which self can perform. It is one that self can only pretend to perform.

Affirmation is my chosen point of departure and this, by its very nature, does not require the negation of other points of departure. Yes!

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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