Tuesday, March 14, 2006


When a bell is struck, the sound is immediate. Zen suggests that a person should be like a bell, in that one’s response should be instantaneous and intuitive. Deliberation and speculation should not enter into one’s reaction to something.
What is intuition?
Intuition is perceptive insight. It is the faculty of sensing directly, without concocting self-satisfying reasons for one’s behavior.
From birth humans learn to reason and to be rational because those are qualities of a so-called enlightened culture. Not all such training sinks in with everyone, but that’s beside the point.
The point is, intuition is not rationalization. Therefore, intuitive behavior is looked upon with suspicion. Too many people believe that because humans rationalize, that is good, and because animals intuit, that is unreliable.
Rationalization is the product of thinking, analyzing, and weighing before acting. Rationalization depends on logic. For example, if A is equal to B, and B is equal to C, then A is assumed to be equal to C. That sort of reasoning is known as a syllogism. It is logical or deductive reasoning. It represents the scientific or mathematical method of reaching a conclusion.
There is nothing “wrong” with reasoned thinking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work, just like everything else in life. Sometimes, when rationalization falls short, the consequences may be dire. A military leader or a politician may rationalize a campaign based on the assumed behavior of an opponent. But, as we know, human behavior doesn’t always proceed smoothly from A to B to C.
Humans do tend to follow certain patterns, and human behavior may be vaguely predictable, but only up to a certain point. Ask anyone who plays the stock market about inexplicable behavior. Probably the first person who realized behavioral shakiness was the person who made the pronouncement, “Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.”
Nature is even less predictable than humans, and nature is not inclined to favor humans just because humans think it should. As much as trained and experienced meteorologists know about weather patterns, they cannot say with absolute certainty a hurricane will perform the way it may be expected to perform.
Rational knowledge is built systematically and logically, one step after another. Intuitive understanding comes with an immediacy of the sound of a bell.
I am not saying a Zen person is all-knowing. In fact, in Zen, as in Taoism, great respect is given to what we do not, or cannot, know.
Must there be an answer to everything in life? Must humans dissect each movement of existence and lay out all of nature’s mysteries? If we humans gain all-knowledge, as we seem determined to do, will we then become a race of gods? These are rhetorical questions, and I’m playing with words. However, I hope you’ll follow me because there is a point to all this.
There is a great difference in having no-knowledge and having no-knowledge. Having no-knowledge implies ignorance. When I say ignorance I don’t mean stupidity, but unawareness. One simply does not know.
Having no-knowledge, in the Zen sense, is a state of ultimate illumination.
     R.G.H. Siu, author of The Tao of Science says the mysteries of nature appear to be mysteries only to those who refuse to participate in them. I would add that some mysteries do not need to be laid bare, and humans may be better off if they possess a healthy measure of no-knowledge.
     We humans cannot possibly know what it is like to be a tree. We assume a tree can’t think or feel emotions. But we humans think in terms of rational thought. With rational knowledge we observe, take mental notes, analyze, and come to conclusions. With no-knowledge we become, as Siu says, participants in nature.
     We humans cannot become a tree, or a stone. However, we may, through the sharpening of our perception and intuition, be aware of the forest or the field as it might appear to a tree or a stone. By being alone with a tree or a stone we may come to an understanding of it.
     To paraphrase writer/philosopher Andre Gide, the individual who fears finding himself alone never finds himself at all.
     Remember the bell.