Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Simple complexity.



I’ve been a student of Zen for more than 30 years. During that time I must have read hundreds of Buddhist and Zen books. To be honest nearly all of them were profound yet abstruse. Transcendent truths are perplexing since language is limited and reading is language centered. It’s an oil and water conundrum. Mining the profound treasures involves a lot of digging and dirt tossing. And after the mining you still have a problem: How to transmit the gold to others.

Long ago Lao Tzu addressed this problem when he said, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” That is indeed a perplexing communication challenge. As I’ve worked through this challenge I have struggled to distill and shift out the dirt so that I could speak simply of matters that are anything but simple and obvious.

So I’ve studied the writing of the great sages and seers to steal their methods. Jesus chose to speak in parables. The New Testament is full of his parables. Gautama chose similar methods. And while these methods worked with many, the vast majority still didn’t understand. Life’s greatest truths are not so evident. If they were our world wouldn’t be in such a mess.

I’m no Jesus or Gautama but I use their communications methods since I am persuaded that if I can find ways to share the wealth of my own mining then a lot of people can begin to find their own treasure. One of the most valuable communication tools used by Gautama is known as “Upaya” — expedient means. The principle is simple: teach people at their level rather than your own. This method is extraordinarily wise. Imagine what would happen in a Kindergarten class if the PhD teacher tried to teach nuclear physics by employing high-level jargon. It doesn’t mean that young people one day won’t be capable of becoming nuclear physicists. But there is a huge difference between knowing something and being an effective teacher. All of us have experienced both and all of us prefer good teachers.

So what I have chosen to do is adapt. I use, as much as possible, simple language with graphics and other devices that aid in the learning process so that matters of great profundity can be grasped by people not yet schooled. They know precisely the nature of their own dilemma but they don’t know the nature of the solutions. Transcendent truths provide the solutions they seek. It is my job to speak simply of these truths. All I do is haul water to thirsty horses. The horses decide if they want to drink.
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