Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Zen Picking & Choosing: Koans and Zen Masters

Zen Picking & Choosing: Koans, Expressions, and Zen Masters

Being expressed from the nondual perspective, Zen expressions on objectivity and subjectivity naturally presuppose their being heard and understood nondually. The subjects and objects of Zen expression are not “signifiers” or “symbols” that “represent” independent entities, but interdependent beings and forms, the actual vehicles (that both “contain” and “convey”) of metaphorical modes of experience, each fully dependent on and inclusive of all. The emphasis here is their identity in and as “experience.” The experience of Zen practice-enlightenment is the experience of the self alone together with the self – the great matter of life-and-death. This experience is actualized by (therefore inclusive of) both “illumining” and “darkening.” Experience itself (thus Zen practice-enlightenment) is thusness as it is – it manifests without prior design. Even if it was possible, pure objectivity or subjectivity would be exactly the same; as either term would be meaningless, picking and choosing one over the other would be meaningless. Fortunately, the Zen perspective is void of pure objective or subjective (much less objectless) experiences – authentic practice-enlightenment is free from the vain “picking and choosing” of abstract speculation. This point is firmly established in the early mythology of Zen by the third Chinese ancestor, Shosan:

The Great Way is not difficult; it simply avoids picking and choosing;
When love and hate are both absent; everything dwells in perfect clarity.
~Shinjinmei (Trust in the Heart-Mind), first verse

The significance and implications of this passage (and the whole poem for that matter) is brought to light, refined, and elaborated by innumerable expressions throughout the Zen literature. One of the clearest, and most direct expressions on this is found as case 2 in the classic Zen work, Hekiganroku. The expression therein is centered on a dialogue between the revered Zen master, Joshu, and a monk from the assembly where he taught. Here is the koan that comprises the “main case” of the expression:

Joshu, Addressing his assembly, Joshu said, "The Great Way is not difficult; it simply avoids picking and choosing. But as soon as words are uttered, there is “picking and choosing” and there is “clarity.” This old monk (Joshu himself) does not dwell in clarity. Do you monks treasure this clarity or not?” (Do you understand, agree, or go along with [me, my meaning, and/or clarity itself] or not?)

A monk stepped forward and said, “If you do not dwell in clarity, then what do you treasure?” (If it is not “clarity” where do you dwell?)

Joshu said, "I do not know, either.”

The monk said, "If you do not know, Teacher, how can you say that you do not dwell in clarity?"

Joshu said, "It is enough to have asked the question. Now bow and withdraw."
~Hekiganroku (Blue Cliff Record), case 2, main case

All thoughts, words, and deeds are necessarily “selections” – an idea appears as an idea through selecting or “picking and choosing” (illumining) particular dharmas from among the myriad, and ignoring (darkening) the rest. Regardless of the method or the one that employs it, thinking, speaking, or acting necessitates “selection,” illuming and darkening. Thus, “as soon as words are spoken” other words are “unspoken” – thus even though the great Zen master is compelled to “pick and choose” and not “dwell” in an enlightened condition (clarity), realization of the nonduality of “picking and choosing” and “clarity” delivers one into the liberated condition in which “picking and choosing” is itself “clarity” and “clarity” is itself “picking and choosing.” For the true self, being actualized by and as the object chosen and the subject choosing comprises the whole of actualized experience. If the self that makes the selection is the self from which the selection is made, then it is the self that is made by (fashioned by) the selection. Therefore, as the self is experience itself (the actualization of subject/object), then the experience of “clarity” (a subject/object) is the self (as clarity itself) and “picking and choosing” (a subject/object) is the self (as picking and choosing itself) the subject/object of the thusness of either is neither voided not altered in the slightest – clarity, picking and choosing, and every other dharma is a subject with an object, and an object with a subject – the two are distinct and co-extensive, not merged or independent.

The ordinary (unawakened) being, like the objective scientist, subjective artist, and abstract speculator naturally selects the “good,” “important,” “beautiful,” “significant,” or “true” from the welter of raw experience. Most will acknowledge the inevitability of leaving some of their experience untreated, many will agree that some of their experience goes “unexperienced” (i.e. the will admit not noticing every tree, thought, movement, etc.), and the more astute may confess to having fashioned much of their experience (i.e. thoughts, feelings, understanding, etc.) from preconceptions and after-images of actual experience, but without the vision afforded by the Dharma-eye none admit, much less realize it is not them that fashions experience, but experience that fashions them.

Driving ourselves to practice and experience the myriad dharmas is delusion. When the myriad dharmas actively practice and experience ourselves, that is the state of realization.

Shobogenzo, Genjokoan, Gudo Nishijima & Mike Cross

Just as the lucid dreamer realizes the he is “dreamed” the Zen practitioner realizes she is “fashioned.” And as the dreamer knows his “dream-self” is dreamed by his “dreaming-self” and never the two shall meet; the Zen practitioner sees that her (individual/universal) “self” is fashioned by her (universal/individual) “self” and never the two shall meet – and, never shall the two not meet. For if “fashioning” is continuous, experience is continuous. One ’s self is never “objective” to subjectivity, nor “subject” to objectivity – both are coessential qualities of the self – whatever sense of “objectivity” is experienced is (ever already) a subjective perspective of the self. As soon as “matters of fact,” “spiritual authorities,” “scientific truths,” “authentic certifications,” “natural laws,” or “logical proofs” are viewed or treated as abstract realities we can be sure that objectivity and subjectivity have strayed from the Way and fallen into dualism.

Peace, Ted


Lauren said...

Nice... thanks.

Ted Biringer said...

Hello Lauren,

Thank you for the comment - 3 full bows.

Please treasure yourself.