Tuesday, July 29, 2008


In past meetings we’ve talked about intellect. That’s the mental ability to reason, or the capacity for understanding. It’s not just having knowledge, but being able to apply knowledge.

Intellect is wisdom, knowledge, understanding, intelligence, and reasoning all rolled into one.

Even though intellect is part of the human condition, Zen Buddhists go beyond it in order to become conscious of their true selves, conscious of their inherent Buddha-nature.

Zen Master Dogen had this to say about Buddha-nature:

1. All beings have Buddha-nature.

2. Buddha-nature is the total awareness brought about by zazen.

3. Buddha-nature is the realization of impermanence.

4. Buddha-nature does not reach beyond impermanence but is

one with it.

Buddha-nature may seem similar to intellect, but it outreaches intellect in two senses. One sense is perception, that is, the ability to instantly acknowledge the true nature of something. The other sense is intuition, that is, the ability to take instinctive action.

Life trains us to think, to analyze, and to weigh pros and cons.

Life enables us to intellectualize, to do something with our knowledge.

This is neither good nor bad. It’s life. Doing something with our knowledge is what human life is about. We have to recognize that fact, and at the same time we have to step back and see the limitations of knowledge.

So there is life training and there is Buddha-nature.

Are they the same, or are they different?

Is on better than the other?

This is an example of what Buddhism terms duality. Duality also shows up in our intellectualizing in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, this or that. Obviously we can’t eliminate life-training or Buddha-nature, so we must reconcile them.

We must transcend duality.

Japan is a group of four major islands. Because the country is surrounded by water, its temperatures swing widely from season to season. In winter, most of the country is cold, really cold. In summer it is really hot.

Most Zen temples don’t have central heating or cooling.

At a temple in Honshu, a monk who was physically miserable for most of the year asked the master how he could escape cold and heat.

“Go where there is no cold or heat,” the master said.

The monk, thinking in terms of geography, wondered if there was such a place in the world.

“But I don’t want to leave my country,” he said.

The master said, “You don’t have to leave your country. When you are hot, be hot. When you are cold, be cold.”

Think about it.

If we could run away from cold and heat, from good and bad, from right and wrong, that might be great. But we’d be like a hamster on a treadmill. We’d never stop running.

There is no place to run to. There is no tree to hide behind.

There is hot, there is cold. There is good, there is bad, There is right, there is wrong.

Life seems to come in pairs. There are even jokes that that start out, “First the good part, then the bad part.”

These are what Zen calls dualities.

So where is a place of no-duality?

Is it possible to break free from physical or mental distress?

Zen says to become one with distress. If the day is hot, don’t moan about how uncomfortable you are. Don’t feel put upon. Experience the heat for what it is instead of fighting it. Be one with it, what ever it may be.

When you become totally one with anything you become your master instead of its slave.

As hot as Japan gets in the summer, there are few places in the world that are hotter than Indonesia in August. When I first went to Bali I could hardly breathe in the 100-degree-plus heat. I was constantly drenched with perspiration. I physically drooped and mentally sagged.

It didn’t take long for me to decide that as good as air conditioning and cold drinks felt, I didn’t want to spend all my time sitting in luxury hotels, swigging iced beer. I wanted to experience Bali.

Besides, in the most fascinating parts of Bali—the back country—there are few fancy hotels and not much air conditioning.

I didn’t want to hide from the heat, and I couldn’t fight it, so I learned to connect with it. That didn’t take long—maybe a single day—because most of the torment was in my mind, not in my body.

So I went beyond intellect.

I accepted the intense heat for what it was. I became one with the heat. I stopped looking at thermometers because I knew the numbers would be at the high end. It was hot during the day, it was hot during the night. It was hot all the time

So instead of hiding out, I walked miles and miles every day. Of course, I sweated and I itched, but that no longer mattered. I had a wonderful time poking around ruins, playing soccer with little kids, and exploring open-air markets.

I copied the natives by taking frequent showers or going swimming.

At noon the sun was almost overhead, and the heat was fierce. Yet I was so with it that I occasionally experienced a cold chill of pure delight.

I did not master the heat. I mastered myself. I perceived what heat is, and I behaved accordingly. No longer was heat bad, and cool good. No longer was there a duality of the temperature versus me.

To recycle that corny expression, we were one.

In the words of an old song, “When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.”

Hot is hot. Cold is cold. Each is what it is.

And you are what you are.


Blogger Mike said...

"...the mental ability to reason, or the capacity for understanding. It’s not just having knowledge, but being able to apply knowledge."

"Intellect is wisdom, knowledge, understanding, intelligence, and reasoning all rolled into one."

"Life trains us to think, to analyze, and to weigh pros and cons."

If these statements of your's are all true, then why the inconsistency with a statement in your last posting that "the first step to realizing this truth is to give up logical thinking..."? How can Zen apply reason, yet jettison logic at the same time?

Thursday, July 31, 2008 11:49:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home