Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Half full; half empty.

“The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.”

That’s the opening stanza of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and is the one that sits at the top of my blog. I chose that quote some years ago to be my banner since it seems to encapsulate the essential spirit and challenge of being human. Language is how we communicate with one another: Our medium of intellectual barter. Words have the power to shape our lives either for the good or for the bad. And the truth is that we all begin to imagine that what we think and say is the sine qua non of being human. What we all fail to consider is that words are simply abstractions; representations of something, but beneath the words lay the mystery — the source from whence our words arise.

Then comes the matter of desire. Who or what is desiring and why? Someone who is complete and fulfilled has no need to desire anything. “But wait”, you might say: “Obviously we are all incomplete.” To that statement we must say, yes and no. Yes that part of us that is continually learning and being exposed to an infinite set of changing conditions is incomplete. And if we were only a body that is growing and dying then yes we are incomplete.

But we are not only an object, which we consider our body. We are also a subjective spirit, integrated completely with the body. It’s a mystery beyond rational understanding but nevertheless real. And this spiritual reality is indiscriminate which means it is not divided. It is whole and complete already. Nothing can be added and nothing subtracted. It isn’t a matter of choosing one aspect (body) vs. another aspect (spirit) since it isn’t possible to separate them and still remain human. It is nevertheless the seen part of us, which we risk seeing as all that we are, that is desiring because that part is incomplete and functions within a sea of discrimination. “The named is the mother of ten thousand things” none of which accord with each other. It’s the central task of Zen to release ourselves from the illusion of abstraction — the limited idea — we hold of ourselves and find our truth where mystery resides.

This notion of Dropping off body and mind was a primal issue for Zen Master Dogen but more importantly it was his dropping of the dropping that unlocked the door to his enlightenment. The “idea” that there is a difference between body and mind can be a serious obstacle because it remains an intellectual abstraction of separation dividing us all and leaving us with the residue of alienation. Enlightenment is not an idea. It is an undivided, always present reality and to align ourselves with enlightenment is to realize our own mystery. Body/Spirit. Object/Subject: Same and different, but always indivisible.
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