Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I’d like to talk about ten thousand things. Not ten thousand dollars, nor ten thousand books, which would take up more time than any of us could bear.
“Things” is a purposely fuzzy word. A “thing” could be an object, a happening, even a nonentity. There is a song titled “The Things We Did Last Summer,” whose words were vague, but suggestive.
In some of the older readings in Buddhism you might come across the expression “ten thousand things.” In Buddhism ten thousand isn’t some magic number. It too is vague. It could just as well be “a billion things.”
Ten thousand refers to the uncountable numbers of forms in which life force, or Buddha-nature, exists.
The phrase came into use probably in the time of the Taoist, Lao-tzu. Of course, ten thousand, or any other large number used in this context is a metaphor to achieve an effect beyond the range of ordinary language.
That is to say, Buddha-nature is everywhere.

The basis of the expression lies in the Zen notion of “not one, not two.” In order for there to be one of anything there must be an observer. Therefore, the observer plus the observed makes two. Two implies a relationship, and that makes three.
And so on, and so on.
Ten thousand things.
Lau-tzu’s Tao-te Ching, which dates from about the 3rd century BCE, mentions that the Tao brings about one. One brings about two. Two brings about three. Three brings about all things. The ancient Chinese referred to all things—which are limitless—as ten thousand things.
A couple of other Buddhist, or Zen, expressions can be equally baffling. I’m referring to the terms “suchness” and “isness.” These words can cause a hardnosed person to throw his hands up and say, “What the hell is isness? Is isness the opposite of isn’tness?”
To put it as simply as I can, isness or suchness is another way to refer to one’s true nature.
A paradox. If each of us—animal, vegetable, or mineral—has universal Buddha-nature, how is each of us an individual entity? To put it another way, if everything is Buddha-mind, isn’t everything the same?
The Japanese poet Ikkyu wrote about this puzzler when he mentioned that if there is no mind beyond this mind (speaking of Buddha-nature), then there isn’t any difference between Ikkyu and other people.
I’m not sure what that means. I think it has something to do with those enigmatic words from the Diamond Sutra: “There are no things or people, yet there are.”
Obviously everything is not the same. You aren’t a tree. You aren’t a grain of sand. Some of our linguistic metaphors would be puzzling to a being not familiar with humanity. What would a Martian think if it were in the early stages of learning English and someone said “That woman is a shrinking violet”?
In California calling oneself something other than one’s given name is common. I’ve known a Trout (who was male), a Willow (a female), and even a Squashblossom (whose gender was vague).
Aside from sometimes sounding a bit weird, there’s nothing of itself wrong, or bad, or terrible about taking on a colorful name. Remember the childhood chant, “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Everyone is free to call themselves whatever they wish. I was given the name John, but I prefer to call myself Jack because it seems more informal.
I applied for my first passport in my fully saturated name of John Philip McDowell. When it expired, after four years, and I applied for a new passport, I applied as Jack McDowell. That threw the passport office into a tizzy. I was told I could change either the first name or the middle name, but not both at the same time. So I became Jack Philip until that passport expired. Then I renewed, dropping the Philip to be just plain Jack.
I guess I’m a living example of not two, not one.
The point of all this is that if a person feels the need for a special name or title, it may indicate that person is not selfless. He or she may have a self-image that is getting in the way of true nature.
Christmas Humphries mentioned (A Western Approach to Zen) that as long as ego fights with ego, there is no vision of the self which is beyond, above and yet within both.
When ego-self lets go is when Buddha-nature takes hold.
Buddha-nature is universal. It’s all-embracing. At the same time, Buddha-nature is distinctively individual.
In the Buddhist sense, feeding the ego leads to suffering because the ego has a huge appetite. The more you give it, the more it demands. You give it a hundred dollars, it wants five hundred dollars. You give it an old but operational Volkswagen, it wants the latest model Jaguar.
And so on to ten thousand things.
I realize I’m mumbling in the dark talking about such stuff to this group. I’d guess we are all fairly comfortable and content with what we have and what we do. If one of us wasn’t, he or she would do something about it.
And that says something about each of us. That says we each may perceive our Buddha-nature and that of all other things, whether they number ten thousand or more.
But that knowledge should not go to our heads.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jack

Saturday, March 19, 2016 5:01:00 AM  

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