Saturday, August 25, 2012

Truly Amoral

Scott Bradley


One of my favorite koans is the 23rd of the Mumonkan. It has to do with the Sixth Patriarch, Eno (Jap.). Though he is an uneducated lay monk, he has been given the robe and bowl, symbols of the transmission of the patriarchy, and told to make a run for it, since the other monks will be angry and resentful about this choice. Sure enough, a bunch of monks take off after him, but only one, a former military man named Myo, is able to stay the race and catch up with him. Seeing him coming, Eno puts down the robe and bowl and declares them not worth fighting for. Myo attempts to take them, but finds them miraculously immovable. Full of fear, he says he never really wanted them in the first place, but only seeks instruction in Zen.

Here we have, apart from the miracle, a fairly typical expression of human reality. These monks have for years been sitting at the feet of the Fifth Patriarch and have been hard at work trying to be enlightened, and they behave like this. Amazing. I think for me, this reality would be the most difficult part of entering a monastery; not only would I be my same old self, but so would most everyone else.

Isn't it the case that my problem would be that I still lived in the world of right and wrong? I would have entered the monastery with a view to becoming free of all my anger and resentments, not realizing that that freedom is a mere byproduct of what cares nothing about them. And I would, of course, only be concerned about them in others because I was thoroughly steeped in them myself, however much I fooled myself to the contrary.

Having been asked by Myo for a word of Zen, Eno says, "Think neither good nor evil. At such a moment, what is the True Self of Monk Myo?" Myo is enlightened. More amazing still. Not only has he presumed to violently steal the sacred robe and bowl from the one chosen by his Master, but when he fails at this he duplicitously changes his story and says he only wants instruction. And then he gets enlightened! What was the Universal Mind thinking?! I’m a better person than Myo, and I don’t get enlightened. It’s neither right nor fair.

"Think neither good nor evil." Fully aware of his present ‘evil’, that’s precisely what Myo did. And that was all he needed to do.

Were I a great sage and august master, maybe I'd welcome new seekers with, "What the fuck do you want?" That would start them off on the right foot! Don’t come around here looking for ‘spiritual’ bullshit.

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

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