Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One Fist

Scott Bradley

This post follows up on the previous one in which we saw that not criticizing others is a clear demonstration of sagacity. For those of us who wish to continue to do so, however, here's a path by which we can do so as an expression of our sagacity. If we just have satori, we can do as we please.

In the 11th koan of the Mumonkan Joshu visits two hermits. When he calls to the first hermit, he holds up a fist. Joshu dismisses him as of little spiritual attainment. When he calls to the second hermit, he also holds up a fist. Joshu bows and honors his attainment. "You are free either to give or to take away, either to kill or give life," he declares. How, asks Mumon, did he judge between them, given the fist was the same?

Perhaps Zen masters have deep and hidden powers of discernment, but that has nothing to do with this koan. A better way to have framed the question would have been to ask "Why?", not "How?"

The key resides, at least in part, in the fist. Held up as a fist, it acknowledges oneness. Were it an open hand, it would acknowledge the many. Open it and you give life; close it and you take it. Neither the One nor the many is the negation of the other. Together they transcend both.

Zenkei comments: "One is all; all is one. Equality is at once differentiation." Or, as Zhuangzi has it, "not-one is also One". The supreme attainment of Zen is the realization of this equality of things in their differentiation. And this is accomplished when one transcends the discriminating mind, the mind that says yes and no, should and should not, inferior and superior. There's no longer any need to criticize or judge here. But neither is there any need not to. "When you cast away such discrimination," writes Zenkei, "the key to make free use of both yes and no, is and is not, is yours." Why did Joshu judge between them? Because he could, and wished to do so.

Returning to the hermits, the commentators point out that despite different levels of attainment, they are the same and equal. Zenkei shares a poem about the fist to this affect:
Whether to call it crazy or rude
I leave to someone else to judge.
Peach blossoms are by nature pink;
Pear blossoms are by nature white.
The two hermits, like the blossoms, are perfect just as they are, whatever their attainment.

So, if we want to criticize and judge others as an expression of our spirituality, we first have to have that transformative experience wherein we are oneness; then we can do as we please. But let’s remember the magician's apprentice who foolishly dabbled in powers he could not control. We mustn’t play the sage when we are not, lest we just deepen our own bondage and simply heap more of the same on others.

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

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