Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Quibbling Mind

Scott Bradley


Eno (Jap.), the Sixth Patriarch, came upon two monks arguing whether it was a flag that was moving in the wind or the wind that was moving. He decided to add his two cents and said, "Neither the flag nor the wind is moving; it is your mind that is moving." The monks were left in awe.

Zenkei (Zen Comments on the Mumonkan) tells us that this statement is rooted in the Buddhist doctrine that "nothing exists outside the mind." This is more than I am able to say, having no way to know one way or the other, but what I think I can affirm, and what I believe almost amounts to the same thing, is that whether things exist outside the mind or not, it is the mind that gives them a meaning which they would not otherwise have. The act of rendering things intelligible is a mediating activity completely divorced from the reality (or non-reality) of the things themselves. "Things are neither good nor evil, but it is the mind that makes them so," says Hamlet, and that applies as well to any other discrimination we might wish to make.

But none of this is really what Eno intended to convey; had it been so, he would have indeed simply added his "two cents". "It's neither A nor B, but C", is still mere quibbling, but what Eno really accomplished was to shatter the monks' quibbling within the realm of the quibbling mind. Mumon, in his commentary, says that in reality none of the three are moving, and this was the real intent of Eno's statement. His statement was intended to demonstrate that the whole discussion had nothing to do with reality, which transcends thought. Eno did not, therefore, add his "two cents", for, as Mumon goes on to say, the monks were looking to buy iron, but got gold instead. They understood.

We quibble. At least I quibble. Most everything I write here has some quibbling in it. I also understand; but like the monks, this does not bring my quibbling to an end; only an Eno can truly speak without quibbling, for every verbalized point of view (opinion) is by nature a form of quibbling. It might even be said that Eno was quibbling, unless we intuit otherwise.

So, why don’t I simply quit writing, as I so often am tempted to do? Because I know that it would not really make any difference; it wouldn’t end the quibbling. What I can do is to let my understanding of the disconnect between ideas and reality continually remind me that even the refinement of ideas (which somehow does make a difference), is but a sideshow in the journey.

Now I am going to use one of my favorite words: Messy. Existence is messy. It does not accommodate itself to our formulaic shoulds and should nots. Because ideas are not reality, we cannot simply cease to have them. Because quibbling about ‘truth’ does not lead to ‘truth’, we cannot simply cease to quibble. Existence is dialectical; it evolves; the negation of yesterday’s thesis for the benefit of today’s synthesis is not the negation of the process. The important thing is to always remember that it is the process that counts, not the current point of view. And this renders quibbling self-aware.

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

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