Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search
HomeSathyam - Truth is a Pathless Land > Unfolding Consciousness > Zen Buddhism as Creative Religion

From Matter to Life to Mind...

Zen Buddhism As Creative Religion 

"...The intellect understands when it has succeeded in fitting the unknown into a framework of familiar ideas. But every ideological framework is a limited structure, and therefore everything understandable is of limited content and potentiality...Zen has only one thing to say finally, and that is “To thine own self be true; thou canst not then be false to any man.” Or “Be true to any man, thou canst not then be false to thine own self.” Or “Be true to anything, thou canst not then be false to anything else.” In short, “Be true,” that is, “Be the living truth itself.” “Be real, be reality itself.” Or in the shortest possible terms, Zen would only say, “Be”"

Zen - "Be"

On the current impact of Zen on the West it might perhaps be said that never before have so many evinced such interest in anything so little understood. Certainly, Zen tantalizes by its very inscruta­bility. Yet were Zen simply a thing opaque, how could it have evoked the eulogies of painters, psychiatrists, and philosophers?

Sheer mystery has not the power permanently to attract, whereas it is just by its creative fusion of mystery and meaning that Zen speaks to the deepest level of man’s being. Zen is neither purpose­ful nor wanton mystification; it is ultimately unfathomable because it is inexhaustible. Its elusiveness is the elusiveness ingredient in all that is alive, and the uniqueness of Zen is that it goes beyond books and beliefs to life itself.

The intent of Zen Buddhism is to bring man into union with life and with himself, or, in other words, to awaken in him the knowl­edge of who he really is. The unawakened man sees himself as in the world, but the world seems to him to be clearly something other than his own very self. This self he takes to be only a fragment of an unknown totality, a fragment now threatened, now supported by the other fragments with which it is in contact. He thus operates on things from a position which is external to them, and his deal­ings with life are only manipulations of its fragments. Because of this separation from life, his efforts at adjustment are never regu­lated by any sense of wholeness, and he is forever colliding with those portions of life which his piecemeal calculations had not envisaged.

His inner life exactly mirrors the outer fragmentation; his separa­tion from all things is mysteriously matched by an alienation from himself as well. From whatever angle he would approach himself, he is not able to lay hands on his wholeness and to muster all of his being behind any project whatsoever. Whether he en­deavors to express himself in word or in deed, he is never, as common parlance puts it, “all there,” and so far as his responses have been endorsed by only a portion of himself, they cannot but fall short of perfect authenticity. 

No man can be wholehearted unless he has come into his own wholeness.

When the agent is not wholly present in his action, then the action remains an appearance - an “acting” - rather than a thing completely real.

Man’s inner life and his dealings with the world are thus both infected with unreality in the measure that he is separated from himself and from his world. Both forms of estrangement, Buddhism has always claimed, are tied to man’s ignorance of his own true being. It is from this state of alienation from life and ignorance of self that Zen proposes to rescue him.

The unreal life is a life forever unconsummated. The man who stands apart from things, unable to give himself to them, receives payment in kind; because his relation to things is an external one, these things, in turn, withhold their full reality from him. When life is contemplated objectively, nowhere is there to be found any­thing that is free of limitations, nothing that fully satisfies the yearning of the human heart. It is only when man’s experience of life is integral that it “means everything” to him; only when the subject is not outside the object, where each lives in the other as well as in itself—only then is life complete from moment to moment.

Otherwise, one remains imperfectly reconciled to life, somewhat disappointed in one’s share, and beset by the fear that even this will one day be cut off by death. He who has not found his own true being may clutch feverishly at fugitive satisfactions in the endeavor to maximize his allotment. Or he may preach and prac­tice stoic resignation, or look forward to some sort of posthumous compensation for the shortcomings of finite existence. In all these cases he is operating as a stranger in life, and he cannot in perfect sincerity and wholeheartedness embrace life and say of it, as the Creator Himself is supposed to have said, that it is exceedingly good. Man’s awareness of himself as something apart from life is the symptom of his fallen condition, and until he overcomes it, he must feel himself  ... a stranger and afraid, In a world I never made.

How does man come to be in this state of alienation from self and estrangement from all that is? Why could not the Prodigal Son stay at home and enjoy his father’s bounty? Why had Adam to lose Paradise? Why did infinite Perfection create this world of im­perfections? Shall we say that without the Fail there is no Re­demption, without the departure there is no joyous homecoming, without the finite infinity is only an abstraction? Zen is not prepared to linger over the questions nor over any of the answers. If pressed for a statement, Zen would only say, 

“Find your own way home, and then you will understand the departure and the return.”

To find one’s way home would be to undo the Fall and to achieve a re-entry into life. The outer world would then no longer be out­side ourselves, and nothing would be seen as simply an ob-ject, i.e., as something which we re-ject or dis-own. In the union with life which overcomes man’s alienation, the universe becomes his very own; he lives in it even as it lives in him. Life is no longer a collec­tion of fragments externally and accidentally related, but a living whole in which the parts retain their identity as parts and yet at the same time are fully united with the whole. And the unity of all things is reflected in the wholeness of his inner life. His left hand knoweth what his right hand doeth, and his name is no longer legion. With his energies no more diminished by the warfare of the segments of his own being, man is then, for the first time, able to give life his undivided attention from moment to moment. His actions can then be truly characterized as wholeness responding to wholeness, and his life is then no longer, as heretofore, a matter of fragments pushing or being pushed by other fragments.

Such an unconditional union with life and with oneself is far beyond anything that could be called acceptance or reconciliation. To be reconciled to one’s lot, to accept the universe, to try to make a virtue of necessity—such attitudes remain on the plane of duality where there is still a separation between the man and what he adjusts to. Both acceptance and rejection are conditioned by separation. Neither can be absolutely wholehearted.

To-be-one-with is something beyond acceptance and rejection or any kind of affirmation and denial. What it signifies is love in the absolute sense of the term, and the miracle of love is just this, that in defiance of the laws of logic, love transcends individuality even as it cherishes and enhances individuality. Love overcomes separateness and yet maintains it at the same time. Were the separateness something final there could be no real contact and no love. Without the separateness, on the other hand, there would be no poles for the love to exist between. So that where love exists between A and B. it can be truly said that although A is A and B is B, still, and at the same time, A is B and B is A. And this is the sort of loving union with life at which Zen aims, and which it achieves, and thus Zen may most descriptively be defined as the absolute love of life.

Perfect love casteth out all fear. When life is complete from moment to moment, where is there room for anxiety concerning the morrow? Anxiety is symptomatic of separateness from life; it is the fear that one may not attain what one hopes for or that one may lose what one momentarily clutches. Not that the life of love is without problems; challenge and response must always remain the warp and woof of life. It is only that where there is union with life the problems are real—not ego-projected—and the responses are creative and wholehearted, not forced or vacillating.

So he who lives in union with life must sooner or later die and face death. How does the man of Zen die? In absolute wholeheart­edness. He relates to death as he relates to life; death is not some­thing that strikes him down from without, and hence it has no terrors for him. He is one with his dying as he is one with his living, and in some ineffable way he is beyond birth and death even as he is born and as he dies. Eternity, for Zen, is not a posthumous state of affairs. To live in eternity is tap the infinity of the moment.

Man’s fallen condition, his ignorance and his finitude, is not just his lack of information. His ignorance and his alienation, accord­ing to Buddhism, do not stem from a merely intellectual error which would be rectified by presenting him with a statement of the truth. It is his very being that is in error, indeed, the truth of the matter is that his being is constituted by the error. To over­come the error he must overcome himself, and the error will be vanquished only after a struggle unto death. Every level of love entails a dying and a resurrection, and the rebirth into the life of absolute love comes after what Zen calls the Great Death. No one is prepared to take that last step until he has first exhausted all his other resources, and finally stands emptied of all contrivances for meeting life. Only then will the need for reality drive him to the final abandoning of his self. The practice and discipline of Zen is to bring one to this point.

The Great Death is also the Great Awakening, and the existen­tial awakening to one’s true Self is called enlightenment (satori, in Japanese). It is the entry into the life of non-duality where one is no longer caught by the play of the opposites, where self is not set over against other, nor are ideals in conflict with realities. As love has degrees of depth, so does that union with life and with oneself which is called enlightenment. There is no final enlightenment, as there is no final perfection of love, for life itself is not final or finished. The true Zen person does not look upon satori as a momen­tary experience after which somehow all of life’s problems will vanish. What vanishes is not life’s problems, but man’s exteriority vis-à-vis those problems. He now deals with all problems and with himself from within instead of from without—that is the great difference.

As he is now one with his tasks, they are not to hnn mere ob­stacles to be disposed of so that he may begin the business of ‘really living.” His tasks are his life, and he lives in the Now, not in the abstract future. it is in the uncreative life that the doer Is separated from what he does, and it is his divorce from life that makes him look before and after and pine for what is not. The creative artist does not value the final product above the process which created it, and the man of Zen makes a creative art of life itself, gives himself wholeheartedly to all its moments, and per­ceives no radical difference between means and ends.

The unenlightened person remains unknowing of his own root-age in life, and he thus confronts life as something quite other than himself. From his position of externality, he vacillates be­tween two alternative modes of dealing with life, both uncreative and equally unsatisfying. As an idealist, his intent may be called sadistic; he would bend life to his will and compel it to take the shape of his idea for it. As a realist, he masochistically allows life to have its way with him; he is not prepared to oppose life in the name of any principle. Likewise, in coping with his own nature, he may try actively to retailor his own being in accordance with some ideal pattern, or he may be passively driven by his immediate impulses and passions without any effort to subdue them or even to channel them. In the one case, his life becomes effortful, tense, and angular; in the other case, it becomes an unstructured miscel­lany and threatens to dissipate into chaos. Neither manner of ap­proach brings him to the condition of the enlightened man, whose relation to himself and to all life is creative and graceful. The enlightened man is neither fighting life nor passively submitting to it. He is one with life, and this being-one-with-life and the being-one-with-oneself are for Zen the very substance of the re­ligious life.

As unity with life is not a static goal but a dynamic one, enlight­enment does not signify the end of Zen practice, but only its real beginning. As enlightenment becomes ever deeper, Zen practice and everyday life become ever less distinguishable, which means that one’s Zen and one’s life are becoming realities, and are ceasing to be formalities alone. Religion can then no longer be thought of as a department within life, nor can Zen appear as a specific technique for achieving a particular goal. Reality, or the life of truth, is not a goal to be reached by a certain process. Unless the process be real, how shall it lead to reality as a goal? The real life, which is the religious life, emerges only where the goal is present in the process and where consummation is achieved at every moment. This is “Zen beyond Zen” about which nothing can any longer be said, for it is nothing special. The life of truth is nothing special and no label can be attached to it. Reality itself is nameless, and where religion and life have become perfectly one there is no longer anything to be called Zen Buddhism. Zen is thus the only religion whose aim is to forget itself.

Zen Buddhism, in the last analysis, is not so much a religion as it is a pointing to the religious life itself. It is not concerned to defend a point of view or to propagate a set of beliefs about the absolute basis of life, but rather to lay hold on that absolute life itself. Its method is not to supply the mind with formal truths; it seeks only to help each person arrive at the existential discovery of his own true Self and thus to have him pass from the inauthentic life of formal posturing to the life of truth or the creative life. Zen is not an ideology but an ultimate therapy through which man comes into the possession of what is truly his own and attains spiritual freedom.

Other religions, of course, have also proclaimed that the truth would set man free, but for Zen this saving truth is the truth of one’s own being, and, as such, it is concrete and personal and can never be enshrined in any formula which would be available to all and sundry. The truth of one’s being must be grasped in and through one’s being; it is a living truth and cannot be known abstractly or contemplated from the outside. No one can perceive it for another, no one can relate it to another—each must come to it by himself and through himself. Reality is inimitable, and the truth of one’s own being cannot be patterned on that of another. Living truth must be forged, it cannot be followed. The Zen dis­ciple who tries to win approval by quoting the master’s own words only earns a blow from the master’s staff.

That is to say the living truth is not a teaching, and one does not come by the truth of one’s being simply through adhering to a teaching. Since there was a time when you were without the teach­ing, that teaching is something external to your being. The teaching is only something to which you cling, Zen would point out, some­thing you try to absorb into yourself. But the very effort to heed the teaching indicates that it is something alien to your very self. A teaching is something general and abstract, and that is why Zen possesses no stock of teachings, no code, no creed. Zen has no truth to impose on the individual, for any truth of this sort would be an “imposition” and would fall short of being the kind of living truth which alone can confer reality and set men free. No truth that is imposed on an individual from without can be perfectly real for him, nor can such a truth ever evoke the unqualified en­dorsement of his entire being. The effort to conform to the specifi­cations of a truth supposed to emanate from on high will never attain the proportions of a perfectly sincere response. The inevitable outcome of the futile effort to force oneself into the acceptance of what is not truly one’s own is that sense of sin so conspicuous in the devotees of a supernatural deity.

If the living truth is not to be transmitted as a formal teaching, how, then, does one apprehend it? Not by any act of intellectual understanding, nor by any act of feeling, nor by the exercise of any faculty whatsoever. Man will never come to his wholeness through any partial response, and no fragment of man’s being, neither his head nor his heart, can be the instrument of his salvation. Zen is not anti-intellectual any more than it is anti-emotional. It is in the strictest sense non-partisan, for it will not take sides with any of the parts of man’s being, but is concerned only to arrive at his wholeness. Zen opposes the intellect and the feelings alike not as expressions of man’s wholeness, but only as would-be usurpers of that wholeness.

As for the intellect, the farthest it can go is to understand why the reality of Zen is beyond its reach. In relation to the living truth of his own being, man’s problem is not how to understand it, how to fix it as an intellectual possession, but rather how to be one with it, how to live out of it.

The intellect is by its nature “grasping,” but it is only abstractions and not concrete realities that fall within its “grasp.”

The intellect understands when it has succeeded in fitting the unknown into a framework of familiar ideas. But every ideological framework is a limited structure, and therefore everything understandable is of limited content and potentiality.

The intellect contacts not reality in its concreteness, but always only an abstracted portion of it. Intellection yields no more than a point of view, but never the living wholeness itself which is inexhaustibly fertile and allows for an infinity of possible points of view. In the deepest sense, therefore, “Know thyself’ cannot mean “Understand thyself’ (this is the limitation of psychoanalysis and of every merely psychologi­cal approach to the self). “Understand thyself” could mean only “Grasp one or several of the infinitely many aspects of thyself.”

The wish to understand is the wish to possess, but nothing that is living admits of being possessed. Possession is a relation to an abstraction; you cannot approach anything living with the idea of possessing its living quality. If you try to make its living con­creteness your own by an act of possession, you will merely kill It. Living things become ours not by being grasped, but by being loved. It is in the union of the spirit that living things become ours even as they remain themselves.

Life must be given the freedom to grow. So a living truth can never be fixated in a formula, in a creed, in a catechism. It is not an objective phenomenon that can be preserved in a treasure chest and passed onto one’s heirs. When it is locked up in a strong­box, it quickly dies, and what remains is only the stench of death.

There are, of course, embalming techniques that will keep the corpse from utter decay for an indefinite period, but embalming has not the power to revivify. This is the recurring tragedy in the history of religions. Again and again the living word is born into the world. Again and again it is treated as an objective commodity that can be grasped and enshrined forever in the form of a ritual, a creed, or an organization.

But living truth soon loses its life when it is thus confined, that is, the forms capture only an abstracted portion of the living whole, but the living essence of things eludes every form or formulation. Zen alone, among the world’s religions, makes no claim to the possession of the truth, for only Zen has clearly realized that living truth cannot be possessed. Any religion that believes it “has” the truth must be dealing only in abstract or formal truth.

The intellect can yield an understanding of life, indeed, many possible understandings of life, but it cannot bring man into union with life and with himself. For intellect, by its very nature, separates the subject from the object, the knower from what he knows. What the intellect grasps it objectifes; its relation to things is always “standoffish.” This is true even when man tries to under­stand himself intellectually—he must stand outside himself to look at himself. He who looks and that at which he looks are never the same, and thus the effort to understand oneself in this way means that one has merely perpetuated the inner division in one’s being and that one is no closer to overcoming one’s alienation from one­self. (That is why no one can ever achieve wholeness with himself through psychoanalysis alone or through any merely psycho­logical technique.

Every psychological approach deals only with the self as objectified. and not with man’s integral being in which there is no split between the self that knows and the self that is known as an object.) It is not by understanding ourselves that we unite with ourselves, Zen would say, but only plunging into our­selves. This demands a movement that is the exact opposite of what is required by an act of understanding.

For Zen, life itself is not something to be contemplated and understood objectively. To understand is to stand aside. The objective stance is motivated by the desire to dominate and to re­duce to manageable proportions the object of knowledge. Under­standing, unlike love, is a one-way relationship, an act of conquest in which I maintain my own being intact and remain the captain of all I survey. One gains the whole world by thus objectifying it, but one loses the soul of things, and what profit is there in it?

It is what Mephistopheles offered Faust, what Satan constantly dangles before the eyes of all men: power at the expense of reality. To be related to the world objectively is to be related to it ab­stractly, and one’s life is then increasingly pervaded by unreality.

Is not this the ultimate reason for the vacuous quality character­izing so much of modern life? Technological society is the product of a purely abstract relation to life. Its triumphs” are the work of Intellect bent on conquest, and it is no wonder that the products of technology are in the end so deeply unsatisfying.

Life becomes real not as an exclusively intellectual product, but when it is created by wholeness responding to wholeness. The integral union with life cannot result from the fragmented, exteri­orized, and abstract effort to dominate life either by physical or intellectual conquest. Reality is encountered not in the act of un­derstanding but only in the act of giving oneself, that is of dying to one’s position of exteriority to life. He who seeks to save his life of exteriority shall lose it and fall into unreality.

So far as Zen is none other than the life of truth itself, one cannot really be informed about Zen, one can only be transformed by Zen. He who seeks to be informed about Zen still thinks of Zen as an objective content which can be grasped from the outside. He who understands Zen no longer has Zen itself, but only some for­mula or formulation. Every such formula will enable him to answer certain questions about Zen, as a menu answers certain questions about the forthcoming dinner. But sooner or later there will come questions that are not answerable on the basis of the formula. Sooner or later whoever tries to live on the basis of his “under­standing” of Zen or on the basis of any “understanding” of life will find himself colliding with reality. Reality is not a formula, and one must turn from the menu to the turkey if one would know its taste.

Most Westerners are long habituated to regarding the various religions abstractly in the fashion of a voter contemplating com­peting party platforms: the platforms are there in advance of the voter’s decision. Each party is defined by the stand it professes to take in relation to certain principles and to concrete issues, and the voter has only to decide which party shall get his vote. Similarly, the religions of the world are commonly thought of as so many competing platforms of doctrines and precepts. The religious seeker has only to weigh their respective claims to truth and to affiliate himself with whichever one he concludes “has the truth.” But Zen is not one of several possible truths which the mind may contemplate.

If one were to ask a Zen master whether Zen is true, the reply might come in the form of a question put to the questioner: Are you true? The reality of Zen and one’s own reality cannot be sepa­rated. In the area of abstract or formal or objective truths, the being of the knower does not affect the truth of what is known.

But where living truth is concerned, the relation of the knower to the truth is not an external one: the relation of the individual to the truth is itself part of the truth. The wish to know the truth without oneself entering into the truth is a wish that cannot be satisfied as far as the truth of Zen is concerned. Hence one cannot stand outside the living truth and inspect it. Absolute reality will not sit for its photograph.

The truth of Zen is nothing one can cling to or believe in. It is not possible to be for a living truth; one can only be in it. Partisan­ship is of the mind, which is always outside whatever it may be for or against. Where a religion stands for certain truths, it ipso facto stands outside them and it is defining itself in relation to abstrac­tions. Zen would say that so long as you know what you stand for, you don’t really stand for it, it is not yet truly yours, which means that your stance is to some degree a posturing. When you have really grasped the point there is no point to grasp. Absolute knowl­edge has nothing to know. Absolute faith has no object. A religion that calls for faith in something definite is not in touch with the Living God.

A truth that is definite is a truth that can be defined. Such a truth has a finis. But life itself being forever a matter of unfinished business, the truth that lives must be a truth that is unbounded, without a finis, in-finite rather than de-finite.

Zen is not a doctrine, nor a set of ideas nor a position. It is not subsumable under any sort of “ism.” It cannot be classified as either theism, atheism, or agnosticism. It is affiliated with no particular school of philosophy; it is no closer to idealism than to materialism. It has no view about the nature of reality; it formulates no system of ethics, propounds no political ideology.

The living substance of Zen is not any kind of canned goods at­tractively arrayed in a shop window in order to tempt the purchaser.

Whatever it may put forth is not intended as a presentation of the objective content of Zen, and it is ultimately wrong to appeal to the words of any Zen master or any Zen text to corroborate one’s understanding of Zen.

Zen will be found not in the words them­selves, but only in penetrating to the living source from which come these words and from which an infinity of other wordings could come. Otherwise, one has again only the outer form and not the inner reality itself. Zen, in short, is wholly of the spirit, and it does not admit of an objective transmission. It can be appropriated only creatively, and we shall have understood the Zen master’s words only when we have entered into them in the way in which Bee­thoven’s “Diabelli Variations” have “understood” the theme which he took from Diabelli.

The creative relation to life is the opposite of the abstract and external relation, for creativity is present only when the grasper and the grasped are one, when the creator has entered into his creation, where he has been molded even as he molds. It is the uncreative transaction which is merely manipulative and technical and where the being of the manipulator remains outside the proc­ess and unaffected by it. To say that Zen admits only of a creative appropriation is to say that it becomes available to us only as we give ourselves to it. There is no window shopping possible in the realm of the spirit, and we cannot first look at Zen to see whether we should like buy it. The substance of Zen does not exist apart from the creative act which appropriates it.

Zen is thus the only religion that demands creativity rather than conformity from its adherents, and which uncompromisingly re­jects anything which they have begged or borrowed from a source other than themselves. Conformity can only be formal posturing; it can never be wholehearted assent. Zen urges man on to find what is truly his, for in that alone does he possess something which neither principalities nor powers nor Buddha nor God can remove from him. In his true Self alone does man attain an absolute ground­ing in life, and standing there he may embrace all life without fear.

The experience of most persons with religion could hardly have occasioned the suspicion that religion and creative living have any­thing whatsoever in common. Religion has most often served as a paradigm of the uncreative life, for in the overwhelming majority of its manifestations it has not encouraged individuality, freedom, and self-expression, but rather the opposites of these, namely, sub­mission to authority, conformity to a law or a creed, the denying of self. The major religions of mankind, as they are understood and practiced, could hardly be described as calls to creativity.

If one thinks of religion as an attempt to conquer the hazards of finitude by cleaving to a truth or a reality beyond oneself, then the intent of Zen as a religion must remain unfathomable. One cannot be a Zen Buddhist in the way in which one may be a Christian or a Moslem. For there is no formal content which Zen holds up as embodying the ultimate truth about life and to which it asks the disciple to conform. Zen seeks reality, and reality is gained not in con-form-ity--which can only yield a correct form - but in creativity which goes beyond form-ality to reality.

Zen has only one thing to say finally, and that is “To thine own self be true; thou canst not then be false to any man.” Or “Be true to any man, thou canst not then be false to thine own self.” Or “Be true to anything, thou canst not then be false to anything else.” In short, “Be true,” that is, “Be the living truth itself.” “Be real, be reality itself.” Or in the shortest possible terms, Zen would only say, “Be”

All of the procedures of Zen have the aim not of aligning man with a truth which transcends him but in awakening him to the living truth which is the Kingdom of Heaven within him.

The life of authenticity, the life of integrity, the life of holiness or whole­ness, the life of truth, the life of reality, the creative life, the life of freedom—all these are for Zen equivalent expressions designating the same sort of life, which is, namely, the life emanating from and endorsed by the totality of one’s being which is not separate from the totality of what is. This, for Zen, is the essentially religious life, and its alternative is the partial life, the fragmented life, the life of posturing and insincerity, the life that stands aside and will not unite with things, the life that is uncreative and therefore un-holy because it is un-whole-some.

Where Zen takes on the lineaments of a formal religion, it is yet to be differentiated from other formal religions in this, that it gives no sacramental significance to its pedagogical forms. Instead, it constantly urges the disciple to penetrate its forms and to en­counter the living reality. It exhorts him to discover who he really is and so attain to the fullest and freest expression of himself. Its goal is not the subordination of individuality in a common pattern of formal belief. Other religions may proclaim the priesthood of all believers, but Zen goes infinitely further in requiring of each that he discover his own Buddhahood, that is, absolute reality. Other faiths may confirm their devotees; Zen alone wishes to graduate them. In the end, it is the only religion that has heeded Jehovah’s injunction to Pharaoh to “Let my people go,” and it has dared to remind Jehovah Himself that He must not claim exemption from His own injunction.

Whatever one may deem to be the historical relations between Zen and that noble Indian who is the reputed founder of Buddhism, it must be apparent that Zen cannot contemplate creating followers of the Buddha.

A follower is by definition an imitator, an epigone, a conformist, in short, an uncreative spirit who is trying to hitch a ride on the vehicle of another. For the Zen Buddhist, the religious life can never be simply an imitation of the Buddha.

Truth of being is inimitable. Whoever would copy its external forms, for­getting the individuality in which it is invariably rooted, finds him­self forcing life to fit an abstraction. The Zen Buddhist is a follower of the Buddha only in the respect that, like the Buddha, he is follow­ing no one, but only searching with might and main for the truth of his being. The Buddha was a religious pioneer, not a Buddhist, and so must all be pioneers who wish to live in the truth. Borrowed plumage, Zen says, does not grow. If we would soar, we shall have to sprout wings from our own living substance.

But if Zen is opposed to mere conformity, it is equally hostile to mere nonconformity. The life of truth is to be gained neither through conformity nor through nonconformity. Both alike imply a divorce between man and that which he conforms to or rebels against. Reality is attained in creativity, which is as removed from nonconformity as it is from conformity since it emerges out of the union of man and his object. When this is understood, it is evident how far they are from grasping the intent of Zen who see it as a call to anti-nomianism, or who imagine that the state of enlighten­ment is manifested only in those who are as different from the ordinary as possible.

Spiritual freedom is no closer to impulsive spontaneity than it is to stale conformity. The assertion of the ego is as unreal as its denial.

Zen is beyond all these dualisms, and nowhere does it recommend the expression of self in complete indifference to the needs of others.

The truth that Zen seeks is not one thing as opposed to another, for such a truth could never restore man to wholeness. Zen does not take sides, for it does not want anything that is merely a side of life or of the living truth.

Whenever Zen seems to assert or deny it is doing so merely provisionally or pedagogically. If it finds you attached to A, Zen will assert not-A, not because it wishes to up­hold the exclusive truth of not-A, but only to break your attach­ment to A. If you go on to cling to not-A, you completely miss the point, and you will find that Zen is now once again asserting A.

So if Zen appears to oppose conformity in religion and in life, it is not for the sake of asserting that there is a greater truth in being a nonconformist. To be, to be the living truth is not to have one’s reality defined by something external. The conformist defines him­self in relation to what he is for, the nonconformist in relation to what he is against; both are but appendages to the abstractions which they are for or against. Moreover, the conformist is aware of his conformity against the background of actual or possible non­conformity; the nonconformist is aware of himself as against the background of possible or actual conformity. So each defines him­self in relation to his opposite, and thus each needs the other, if only as a possibility, in order to grasp himself. But this means that each is alienated from his true Self.

Every position is matched by an opposition, for positions are only sides, and wherever there is a side, there is an opposite side. Zen is not a position, nor is it a mere defiance of all positions. This is the meaning of the advice that Zen gives that we are not to re­main where there is a Buddha and we are to depart from the place where there is no Buddha.

Where there is a Buddha, living truth has jelled into an objective form. Where there is no Buddha you have sheer iconoclasm and nothing positive. Zen is beyond affirma­tion and denial. It is beyond the wisdom of security and the wis­dom of insecurity. Creativity cannot be locked up in a formula, neither is it synonymous with sheer impulsiveness.

Life calls for form, discipline, meaning, structure, universality, but where these are overdone ossification sets in and death finally ensues. Life needs naturalness, freedom, individuality, but where these are absolutized, and there is nothing to balance these purely centrifugal tendencies, the energies of life quickly dissipate.

The mystery of the creative act—which is the religious act—is that it does not slight either of life’s opposing requirements. In creativity both form and matter, discipline and freedom, abstract univer­sality and concrete particularity, meaning and embodiment are perfectly fused—or, Zen would say, in a state of non-separation to begin with. A want of creativity is manifested either by the formal elements suppressing the matter and the individuality, or by a chaotic bursting through of all forms in meaningless self-assertion.

The first peril attends all those who would absolutize the virtues of classicism, the second, those who worship at the altar of romanticism. Zen avoids both equally and urges us on to the creative center from which both are falsely abstracted.

Creativity is neither classicist nor romanticist, and the creative life, whether in the arts or elsewhere, is neither a stale adherence to fixed patterns nor the apotheosis of individuality in defiance of all constraining forms. The freedom which is defined only in rela­tion to myself will be as unreal as the suppression of myself in the name of something beyond myself. To conform to a form and to op­pose a form are equally easy ways of evading life’s call to creativity, and, therefore, ultimately equally unsatisfying. Zen—which is the art of living creatively—calls for a transcendance of the dichotomy between self and not-self and thus of conformity and noncomform­ity. This dualism exists so long as man is alienated from life and from himself; it disappears when he enters into union with life and finds his Self.

The creative relation to the Buddha is neither a following nor a disobedience of the Buddha but a union with the spirit or the reality of the Buddha Nature. It is only in this way that one can avoid the twin evils of suppressing and of expressing individuality. It is only in this way that one comes to a basis on which one can be true to oneself and yet not be false to any man. This absolute basis is the true Self, and unless we possess it we had better not try to be true to ourselves.

To be true to the momentary, relativistically con­ditioned, whimsical self is not Zen, for it is to separate from life, which is a movement opposite to what Zen requires. He who thinks that Zen is an invitation to anarchy is only trapped by another form—he is making a form of formlessness. To blind one­self to the long-range and common needs of man is to forget that my Self is not only my self but also my other, and it is to the Self that Zen bids us to be true.

Understanding this, we shall then know how to deal with the query: Does Zen have any moral principles? One may as well ask: Does Shakespeare have any literary principles? Does Bach have any musical principles? The answer is No—if the questions imply that one can produce real music, real literature, or real goodness by merely patterning one’s production on any definable set of antece­dent principles. The answer is Yes —if the questions imply that real music, real literature, or real goodness can be engendlered by sheer impulsiveness.

Creative reality is not less but more than anything that can be specified by principle, and Zen, therefore, comes not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Except the righteous­ness of the Zen seeker exceed that of the followers of principles and the breakers of principles, he can in no wise enter the King­dom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is for creative spirits alone. Real goodness is creative goodness as real music is creative music.

For Zen, since the living truth is never to be found at either pole of any duality, there must be not one, but two equal and opposite ways of being immoral—that is untrue to life. One way is to try to subsume the infinite content of life under principles; the other way is to do whatever you will whenever you will it. If the latter sin against life is the one committed by the followers of Satan, then is not the former the one to which the followers of the Heavenly Father are prone? There is only one way to be moral and that is to have transcended the dualism of rules and no rules and to do the right thing at the tight time in the right way, and this calls for an act of creation in the living context. It is neither some­thing that can be antecedently specified nor is it something to be extemporized out of sheer spontaneity.

Creative morality, that is Zen, is beyond rules and no rules, and one comes to it only when one finally gives up trying to cope with life from the outside. The enlightened man who has entered into union with life resolves the dualism of conformity vs. antinomianism, and only he can say with Confucius: “I can do whatever my heart desires without con­travening principles.”

Life itsellf becomes an art only when we unite with it, as all creativity emerges from the union of the artist and his task. So long as man remains on the outside and attempts to grasp the truth with his mind, he can only endlessly proliferate theories and points of view which will never contain the living truth which he needs to become whole.

The truth that sets man free is not a “position,” for all positions are finally “poses” which can never muster the endorsement of mans entire ‘being and which always remain ex­ternal to the reality which they would grasp. Zen points to man being Itself which is beyond every this or that, and it is just this no-thing in every man that makes him feel insincere when he pre­tends that he is wholly identifiable as this or that.

The man who remains on the outside of life, content to inspect it as a spectator, arrives at truths which are only speculative and not living, and they will always be opposed by other points of view. If he desires to get beyond points of view to the concrete reality of life itself, he will have to relinquish his post as spectator and enter into union with life. This is what Zen bids him to do.

For Reality is chaste and will not bare herself to strangers; she will give herself only to him who is united with her in holy matrimony. This is mysticism, to be sure; it is the wish of the mystic to overcome his exteriority to life and to join in the life of things. Mysticism is the art of living in union with life, and the living truth must be mysti­cal truth. Satan is the mystical marriage with life.

So the Zen seeker after spiritual freedom is not on the lookout for a true position, Zen is not a point of view, and the living truth cannot be located in any position. Only the dead are fixed in posi­tion, and to take a position is to surrender the privileges and perils of the living for the secure fixity of the dead.

Zen seeks simply the creative union with life, and in relation to this goal, every dogma, every creedal formulation, every ideology, every philosophical system represent a kind of heresy. For heresy is literally the choosing of a position, the taking of a side, i.e., the wish to reduce a living wholeness to one of its formulatable aspects. A life based on a point of view is a life immobilized around a partiality and thus bound to collide with other lives circumscribed by different partialities. The mark of every heresy is that it is opposed by other heresies, and this means that no heresy, that is no position as such, can be absolute. That alone is absolute which is confirmed in everything and by everything and which encounters no opposition anywhere, and thia certain set of ideas about himself, about his universe, and about that which is supposed to be the source of both. Since every set of ideas is limited and also fixed, sooner or later it proves to be incommen­surate with the infinite content of life.

As the discrepancy between idea and actual experience be­gins to become manifest, two alternatives are open to the would-be believer: he may persist in clinging to the idea with unreasoning fanaticism, or he may begin to modify the idea. In the former event, he must deny life and experience in order to affirm the absolute truth of his idea; in the latter case, he is faithful to life and ex­perience, but at the cost of surrendering his previous claim to an absolutely true idea, and then the religion which is based on this idea becomes ever less capable of providing the believer with strength and security.

In the warfare of science and religion, fundamentalist orthodoxy has chosen the first of these alternatives; the various forms of liberal theology have taken the second. Neither is able to meet the spiritual needs of modern man with integrity, for each possesses something that the other lacks. Only that religion can integrally satisfy the needs of modem man which gives to life an absolute underpinning, on the one hand, but which allows for the endless change, which is also of the essence of life, on the other hand. No religion committed to an idea, no religion comprising a definable teaching, no religion dedicated to a formulatable creed or code is in a position to do this.

No formulation can be absolutely univer­sal, for all formulations are conditioned by various relativities, and all formulations must periodically submit to revision in the light of man’s growing experience. Life is forever a matter of un­finished business, and the living truth will not be covered by any formula. Zen claims absolute catholicity just because it is not en­tangled with concepts or formulae of any sort. Zen makes no historical claims nor is it rooted to any spot on the earth’s surface. Its meaning is not confined to any particular set of categories or restricted by any limited perspectives. It may thus justifiably claim to be absolutely universal and to speak to all men every­where who are concerned with achieving an ultimate grounding in life.

For a thousand years the West tried to center every department of life around the idea of God and to regulate every activity of life by principles derived from theology. But with the Renaissance came the revolt—in the name of individuality and self-expression - against the religious totalitarianism which would harness all of a life to a single idea. In ethics as in art, in education and in econom­ics, in politics, in law, in literature and in music and philosophy, modern life is the rebellion of individuality against imposed form.

And yet no one can claim that modern man is altogether happy In his freedom and individuality, for these have been acquired by the negation of form and meaning, and thus it is no wonder that the feeling of life’s meaninglessness is such a widespread symptom of our times. The freedom that modern man has achieved by his rebellion is not real or spiritual freedom; it is ultimately unsatisfy­ing because it excludes its opposite, which means that it is only a half-truth or half-reality.

Modern life is therefore as deficient as medieval life. In the Middle Ages, freedom and individuality were subordinated to ultimate meaning; in modern times, man possesses freedom, but life has lost its ultimate meaning. Each epoch has endeavored unsuccessfully to absolutize what is only half of man’s total need. Human life requires both absolute freedom and abso­lute meaning in order to be fully real, and as long as man’s integral need is denied, he will continue to vacillate from one pole to the other, absolutizing each half-truth in alternation.

No supernaturalistic religion can fulfill man’s integral need, for every such religion is partisan and therefore partial by definition.

It does not accord metaphysical parity to the opposite poles of human life, but ever seeks reality and truth in the subordination of one pole to the other. Wherever God is thought of as confronting man, man’s freedom is limited by God’s will and law. Theistic religion pretends that life’s need for absolute freedom can be denied, and that a life of truth can be achieved through con­formity to the transcendent will of God.

But, in fact, when man tries to subordinate himself to God, he always finds there is a Devil in his own breast who urges him to deny God and express himself. The Devil is God’s polar counterpart and the champion of life’s urge to freedom. The Devil is a half-reality, as God is, and each must be given his due.

Where Thy will is other than my will, I shall never be able wholeheartedly to say “Thy will be done.” It is not in His will that we shall find our peace, but only in that which is neither His nor ours but which simply is.

Neither the City of God nor the City of Satan is the true home­land of the human spirit, seeing that man can never sojourn for very long in either domain without feeling the call to visit the other. Neither in nature nor in supernature, neither in the finite nor in the infinite, neither in time nor in eternity, neither in the material nor in the ideal does life find its absolute grounding. The living truth will not be domiciled at one pole alone of any of these pairs of opposites. When Creator is set over against creature, when Heaven is elevated over earth, the ultimate meaning of life above its immediate content, then life becomes chained to an abstraction.

For Zen, holiness is synonymous with wholeness, and therefore Zen would negate neither life’s need for absolute meaning (God) nor life’s equally valid need for absolute freedom (Satan). Nor in the case of any of the pairs of opposites between which human life fluctuates would Zen wish to attach itself with one side more than with the other. The intellect will never find any way of bridging these dualisms; to logic, A and not-A remain irreconcil­ably opposed. Hence the intellect can never solve man’s ultimate existential problem—which is how to become real—that is, whole. So Zen directs man beyond the intellect to the living truth of his own Self in which these opposites have never been separated out.

Thus the existential resolution of the dualism of freedom and form is concretely exemplified in the lives of those who have achieved a deep enlightenment. It is the conspicuous absence of any kind of one-sidedness which gives to the Zen personality its elemental reality and which makes it at once attractive and unique.

In the main, Western man has been alternately drawn toward two opposite ideals of life—the one, characterized by Rabelaisian gusto and vitality and freedom from all inhibitions, lives by the motto “Do what you will”; the other, the life of the “saint,” is character­ized by inner strength and a yoking of all natural energies to the transcendent will of God.

The fascination exerted by the enlight­ened Zen personality is just that it encompasses both these diver­gent modes of life. The true man, according to Zen, has both zestful freedom and inner substance, both strength and discipline on the one hand, and naturalness and spontaneity on the other hand. Such integrity can never result from forcing myself to do the will of God, nor can it come from merely following my own whims. It comes only when I am living out of my true Self, which is beyond all such dualisms. Then alone shall I know the service that is per­fect freedom, and experience a life that is unconditionally meaning­ful and yet free of all constraint.

The life of the unenlightened can never be wholehearted, for it is perpetually fissured, or, as the Buddhist would say, based on the discrimination of opposites. Always he faces a choice of this or that, unable to have both and yet bound to learn sooner or later that each is incomplete without the other. His reason opposes his passions; his “higher” nature is at war with his “lower” nature; the “law in the members” conflicts with the “law of the mind.” He would live for himself and also for others, yet he can find no way to do both. His desires conflict with his duties; wishing to serve God he is perennially tempted by the Devil. He would live for an ideal and yet he succumbs to the material. He pledges allegiance to Heaven, but cannot withstand the lure of earth and its pleasures. Whether be tries to be reflective or spontaneous, his actions are equally removed from authenticity. His life is a perpetual vacil­lation between opposite poles, and his very voice lacks the ring of reality, for it is prompted by no more than a part of himself at any time, and never has the backing of his entire being.

No ultimate peace can come to one who is thus fissured.

Peace is but another name for the integrity of being which enables man to respond to life without inner conflict.

A mind which is in pieces cannot be a mind at peace. Every dualistic recipe for achieving the peace that passeth understanding is predestined to failure, for it entails the futile attempt of one side of man to coerce the opposite side Into a renunciation of its own needs. Man’s real Self Zen would say, is not to be sought in any dimension of himself, but only in that from which every dimension—whether “higher” or “lower”— is an abstraction. Man’s real Self can only be his whole Self, and that must not be identified with any of the warring factions which he contains. Until he finds that living center of unity which is his integral being, he will know neither peace nor sincerity.

The religions of the West are all dualistic, which means that they accept these oppositions as ultimate and always seek for truth in one direction as contrasted with its opposite. So Western religion elevates reason over the passions, super-nature over nature, the ideal over the material. It has made heaven more real than earth, and has put God over all His creatures. But life itself will not for very long submit to such Procrustean treatment, and the de­valuated fragments periodically reassert themselves. So Western religion has never been free of the struggle with materialism, secu­larism, individualism, and the loyalty of the Western devotee has always been divided.

Integrity is wholeness, not halfness. Holiness is holistic living, not self-conquest. Spiritual freedom is unopposed response, not self-control or self-restraint. Wholeheartedness can never even­tuate from the resolution to slight what is metaphysically half of reality. A mature religion must concede that both the “higher” and the “lower,” both the transcendent and the immediate, are equally real, or rather equally unreal and abstract. A mature religion will courageously confront the profound mystery embodied in the split itself characteristic of human life, and will not seek salvation through any of the fragments resulting from the split. For Zen Buddhism, the split is the consequence of standing apart from life and inspecting it objectively. The split is healed only through the re-entry into life which contacts life’s wholeness.

Philosophers, who are content with mere “points of view,” may label themselves as idealists or as materialists, as supernaturalists or as naturalists. Zen seeks for an absolute which is a living whole embracing all the pairs of opposites. So Zen sees the religious life not as an opting for transcendent meaning in contrast to immediate delights, but rather as the utterly concrete life which is not en­tangled in this insoluble dualism. “Deny thyself’ must not mean merely “Deny thy lower self,” but also “Deny thy higher self’; not merely “Deny thy impulsive or passionate sell,” but also “Deny thy controlling will or rational sell.” In short, Zen would advise us to deny all those fragments of Self which, whether they be called “higher” or “lower,” are only usurpers pretending to a throne which is not theirs.

Rather than becoming a party to the strife of systems, religion’s true role is to heal the schism in man’s soul by guiding him to that union with life which is beyond the dualities. The ultimate wis­dom of Asia, brought to a focus in Zen Buddhism, is the perception that truth and reality must never be sought on the plane of opposition. What is absolute will not be found in one limited perspective as against another. Where there is opposition there is of necessity reciprocal limitation, and it is futile to seek Divinity in that which is no more real than its opposite. The apotheosis of transcendence, which has been the path mistakenly chosen by most of man’s religions, is, in point of fact, an idolatrous substitute for authentic religion. For is it not the essence of idolatry to accord to what is less than the whole that devotion which is only to be rendered to the whole?

As the ultimate psychotherapy, Zen steers man away from the idolatry inherent in every form of parti­sanship and directs his course to the living truth which is truly all in all and not just an aspect of life erroneously absolutized. The center of the circle is the focus of unity for all the radii; stand at the center and you comprehend all the radii together; move ever so slightly off center, and at once you must choose whether to stand on this radius or on that one. It is just man’s off -centeredness which is his ultimate problem, and this is the problem which Zen takes up and solves.

Only he who lives from his whole Self can be called truly religious, and what characterizes the life of the enlightened soul is just that it has achieved creative wholeness. Such a life is graced with absolute freedom, for its movements are authored and authorized by the whole being and are in the deepest sense unopposed.

Such a one will be conspicuously distinguishable from the indi­vidual whose religion is still enmeshed in duality and whose life is consequently marked by tenseness and incessant struggle as he strives in vain to subdue one half of himself to the other half. The Zen life is the life of wholeness responding to wholeness, or in other words, the life of absolute love, of unconditional union with all that is. To many Westerners it seems irresistibly real for this reason.


Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home