Saturday, July 14, 2012

Causation I

Scott Bradley


The second koan in the Mumonkan is a mondo (an exchange of seemingly opaque pronouncements between two or more monks) about an ancient abbot condemned to 500 lives as a fox for answering the question, "Does an enlightened man also fall into causation?" with, "He does not." He has returned and now asks the Master Hyakujo for the "turning word", the response which points to the deeper understanding which he originally missed. "He does not ignore causation," replies Hyakujo, and the condemned is enlightened.

This is a very complex subject, and as usual, I am way beyond my depth. Yet, if I do not seek the bottom, perhaps I can profitably sail across its surface.

Zenkei (Zen Comments on the Mumonkan), after declaring that absolutely everything "exists through the action of cause and effect", then identifies this with the Buddhist belief, obtained from Hinduism, in the karmic principle of "transmigration and retribution". These are actually two different things, and I have difficulties with both.

Regarding the first, I need only reply, "Really?" Buddhism distinguishes between existence and Ultimate Reality, the former being less real ("caused") than the latter. Daoism, I would suggest, makes no such distinction. For me, at least, Daoism is radically monist; Reality is seamless. (Can you vanish there?) There is a sense in which nothing is caused. But perhaps more importantly, Daoism would wince at any definitive and necessarily speculative pronouncement on the workings of Reality.

Regarding the karmic principle, I can only say that it stands so completely outside my Daoist paradigm as to be its negation. It implies a moral Reality. It implies a 'something' (a ‘soul’?) to transmigrate. It implies that this something is lost and needs to be saved. It is dualistic. It is religious belief.

The implications of these disagreements are profound in terms of how one relates oneself to Reality, though perhaps incidental in terms of results.

I hope you will forgive me for focusing on the negative at the outset; there is a great deal more positive and helpful insight here to discuss. And I reaffirm that even this contrastive negativity can be but a way of better understanding one's own path without denigrating that of another. And it does not escape me, moreover, that I am a spiritual worm contending with a tradition and its fruit (Zenkei) far beyond my criticism. Yet, like the dove who cannot fly forty thousand feet above the earth as can the vast bird Peng, my task is to simply be fully realized in my dovishness.

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

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