Conduct and observance

Saturday, November 25, 2006

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Information Age

There seems to me to be an irony implicit in calling this the "information age." Mankind has more data available to him than ever before, but we're faced with the same problems we have always had- and far more of them.

Unsurprisingly, individual lives mirror this collective problem. At every moment, we have input pouring in from ten thousand sources, and it's hard to sort it out. It's as though we were a construction site where the trucks were pulling up every eight seconds with another pile of building materials and finding out the foreman isn't there. The result? Every truck just dumps its load of materials any old place and moves on to bring in the next load. Our inner workers frantically try to keep up, but the site is in chaos and every structure that begins to rise up doesn't follow the intention of the architect. The crews themselves become desperate- they know there is something wrong. They can't get a grip--they don't even speak the same langauges, to borrow from the famous parable--so they try to become architects themselves. New structures get thrown up and torn down right and left as competeing crews try to deal with the influx of material. They argue with each other. There's too much of some materials and not enough of others.

What we end up with is a huge pile of disordered rubble, all of which was intended to build something, but which goes terribly astray.

The idea of in-formation, to me, is not just data. It is the idea of forming something inwardly. In order to do this someone has to be in charge. There has to be discrimination- we can't just pile up materials on our inner construction site willy-nilly, we have to select materials intelligently. We need to know something about building and the site, and there has to be a plan. We're never going to get a tenant to move in if we can't create a suitable residence.

The process of in-formation invoves informing our inner parts. They're discombobulated: they don't talk to each other and in many cases they don't even know their partners are on the building site with them. So we need to get in touch with them and let them know there's an aim.

Increasingly I rely on my breathing to inform me. Every breath I take, if taken with attention, has the potential to help my construction crew remember what it's supposed to be up to.

With the help of my breathing, all day long I can remind them:

We're always on site, guys, and we are working against a deadline.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Zen and man's two natures

This line of ponderings arose as a result of a discussion I had with my wife Neal about a reading of Mme. de Salzmann's in which she stated that man has two natures- an animal, and an angel.

Many people are familiar with the two famous Zen koans:

Does a dog have Buddha nature?
What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Now, it's widely presumed that koans have no answers. However we already know that that presumption is false, because answers are, essentially, responses (check the dictionary on this one, you'll see that's one of the primary definitions of the word answer), and it's definitely clear that there can be responses to koans.

Over and over again in Zen, we see it's the immediate quality of the responses that matter. The logical intellectual content is apparently secondary. So koans do have "answers," although perhaps not necessarily in the way that we usually expect an answer to be understood.

Perhaps- just perhaps- these two koans both point to the issue of man's two natures?

In the first one, we see a redundant question. Why is it redundant?
Because according to both dogma and technical understanding in Buddhism, it's already understood by default that all of reality has Buddha nature. Buddha nature penetrates all matter because the state of is-ness itself is Buddha nature. So the question is rhetorical right up front. The answer is so obvious there is no need to ask it. This points to a suggestion: the question is not at all what it appears to be!

So, I asked myself- what if the Koan were about man, not about a dog? We are all "dogs-" that is, we have an animal nature that is not in relationship with our higher nature.

When we ask the question "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" we see that the answer can be either yes or no, depending on whether or not a man has formed within himself a relationship to his higher nature.

So there is an avenue to understanding this koan which seems perhaps unconventional until one considers its relationship to Mme De Salzmann's words.

That insight got me pondering koan number two. I asked myself- perhaps the second koan has the same intentionally allegorical direction in it? It, too, poses an apparent conundrum: What the heck IS the sound of one hand clapping, anyway?


Well-- I pondered-- one hand cannot clap, so this koan, like the other one, must be pointing to something other than hands and clapping, yes? Or so I reasoned.

Maybe the one hand represents man's animal nature?Then I realized- TWO hands CAN clap. That is, no "objective result"- sound - can arise from the action of one hand (one nature.) It is only if there are two natures in relationship that an answer can be obtained. When the Zen student "responds" to the koan it is the quality of the response that determines the master's acceptance. If it can be seen that the responses arises from an immediate relationship between the two natures, the response is valid- no matter what it is.

So like those of us in the work, the aim of the Zen practitioner is to form an inner bridge between his natures.

One other note- even if there is a higher nature present, without the lower, there is only one hand-- so-- no clapping.

Seems as though God's applause is reserved not for the angels alone, or the animals, but rather for their reunions.

Posted by Lee at 7:04 AM 0 comments    

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