Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just Say No To Preconditions

Scott Bradley

I never did finish Zenkei Shibayama's Zen Commentaries on the Mumonkan mostly because I began to find it too dogmatic (something one might hope not to find in Zen) for my tastes and my responses were becoming increasingly negative. To finish it, therefore, I think I'll have to dip into it only occasionally. This post thus has a negative point of departure, though I hope it points in a positive direction.

Commenting on Master Nansen's assertion that "Ordinary mind, as it is, is Dao", Zenkei finds it necessary to qualify. Indeed, he frequently finds it necessary to do so, for fear, it would seem, that we might take things too literally in their extremes. Yet, I would suggest that all this equivocation effectively neuters any "Zen" the comments might have had in the first place.

I will return to in what way he qualifies this statement and how he in effect negates it in a moment, but first a comment on why I think I have a right to do so. Firstly, because I can. Please feel free to criticize me because I judge the words of my ‘betters’. Secondly, because I am not a believer. Zenkei might be someone's "master", but he is not mine; he speaks to me, not as an authority, but as an insightful, though necessarily flawed, human being. Thirdly, because he and others of his school have taught me something of what Zen is and thus they have taught me to sometimes recognize when it is misrepresented. Fourthly, because to do so is sometimes to engage in what Zen does. Mumon, who compiled this anthology of koans, never ceases to heap scorn on the authors of the koans themselves. As a case in point, in his comment on the thirtieth koan (the one in which Zenkei introduces and qualifies the statement above) in which Taibai answers "What is Buddha?" with "Mind is Buddha", Mumon tells us Taibai has thereby misled many and that just to say the word "Buddha" requires three days of mouth-washing. Of course Zenkei, who requires perfect “masters”, explains away all this scorn as really being great praise. I wonder what Mumon might have had to say of this.

Responding to the statement that "Ordinary mind, as it is, is Dao", Zenkei finds it necessary to qualify "as it is". Why? Because he is religious. In two ways. Firstly, because he has a religious institution to protect. If ordinary mind, as it is, is Dao, then there is no need for a species of Zen which purports to save us from not-Dao. He'd be out of a job. Secondly, because he subscribes to dogma. "As it is", he tells us "is a very misleading phrase." "[T]his great assertion has a precondition: [quoting Hakuin] 'if you testify to the truth of Self-Nature . . .'" This is essentially the imposition of an objective creed and a negation of Zen as I, at least, understand it.

But what if "ordinary mind, as it is, is Dao"? Then there would be no preconditions to meet. Then there would be nothing to achieve. Then 'waking up' would be simply realizing that it is already true of you. Then your joy, release and thankfulness would be now. Then there would be a non-dual vision of reality. Then there would be . . . Zen.

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

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