Monday, April 04, 2016



Zen has a lot of non’s and no’s. I’m not talking about constraints, or things that should not be done. Zen doesn’t follow sets of rules. I’m talking about such concepts as non-being, non-duality, no-mind, no-self, and others.

          These are familiar terms in Zen, and, like Zen, non-things are illogical but significant. That’s their beauty.

          When one has gained insight one is totally mindful, totally aware, and totally self without that self becoming egocentric.

          One is being and at the same time non-being.

          There’s a big difference in being and non-being.

          What sets humans apart from other animals, according to the experts, is the notion that humans are able to reason, whereas cats and horses and eagles don’t reason. They supposedly don’t think.

          The French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes based his philosophy on the rationalistic premise “I think, therefore I am.”

          According to Descartes, thinking is the measure of a human being. If there is no thought, there is no being.

          But if only humans think, does that make birds and bugs non-existent? I’m not so sure. The armadillos that root around in my garden every night may not think, but I sure know they are real.

          When Zen speaks of no-mind, does it mean no-thinking? In a small way it does, but having no-mind does not mean humans are armadillos. No-mind means we have recovered the untouched mind we had before it became formed and deformed by all the prejudices, and biases, and fixed notions that have been crammed into it over the years.

          Zen is a reaction to the restraints of our social order. We may not agree with all the policies of civilization, the sometimes senseless actions, yet we can’t hide from society altogether unless we decide to become total recluses. Shakespeare recognized this quandary when he gave Hamlet the words, “To be, or not to be.”

          Zen is a way in which we learn to recognize the limitations of the world’s controls, to remove ourselves from them without becoming revolutionaries, and to live in the world without being of the world.

          It’s a process of moving from being to non-being to complete being. That is, it’s a process of noncompliance, acknowledgment, and reassertion.

          Recall Zen’s Ten Oxherding Pictures. The allegory describes a boy who leaves his village to go on an extended chase for an elusive farm animal. After a series of trials and errors, and having gained perceptiveness, he re-enters village life.

          You may have read the book The Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse. The hero embarks on a long physical as well as spiritual pilgrimage with several other people. The group eventually breaks up, and the hero returns to conventional life. Only at home does he comprehend the significance of the journey.

          Lao-tzu said, “Knowing others is understanding; knowing oneself is wisdom.”

          Suzuki Roshi said the best way to understand everything is to understand yourself.

          When you understand yourself you are being. When you can realize your being without inflexibly defining it, which imposes limits, and without carrying around a sense of smugness, you are non-being.

          To paraphrase Lao-tzu, one attains fulfillment through selfless action. Selflessness is non-being.

          With non-being comes the capacity to discern the true nature of a situation. It’s a sort of sixth sense. You see things not the way you’d like them to be but the way they are.

          In the book The Tao of Zen Ray Grigg mentions that nothingness is not conceptually approachable because it’s a condition of mind that engenders insight. In other words, nothingness defines awareness.

          I have to repeat my favorite words of Chuang-tzu, who perceived non-being clearly and expressed it well:

“There is a beginning. There is no beginning of that beginning. There is no beginning of that no beginning of beginning. There is something before the beginning of something and nothing, and something before that. Suddenly there is something and nothing. But between something and nothing, I still don’t really know which is something and which is nothing.”

          When those words are rattled off they sound almost like a mantra. They seem foolish and pointless. But if you don’t think about them they start to fall into place.

          Being involves time, and space, and thought.

          Zen goes beyond thought by going beyond the fundamental idea of being. This is non-being.

          In the seventeen hundreds Zen master Hakuin wrote the following:

          “Our form now being no-form, in going and returning we never leave home.”

          Think about it.