Monday, August 1, 2016

Irrational exuberance and the tradition of silence.


Dogma is the thorn in our collective side. It is always heated, exuberant and close-minded. The message of dogma is one of self-righteousness and is based on obdurate and unyielding ideologies. All dogma is based on conceptual thinking—impacted points of view arising from a perceived beautiful, rational perspective (at least in the eye of the ideologist). A contrary ideologist sees this perceived beauty as sheer ugliness. So long as dogma reigns, no reconciliation is possible and both opposing forces become irrationally exuberant.

In sharing the dharma some have said, “You’re closed minded to my perspectives but are asking me to join you in your close mindedness.” There is a difference between Zen and other perspectives. The tradition of Zen is a silent tradition and is fundamentally rooted in a transcendent position, which reaches “across the aisle,” not favoring one position or the other. From that platform you might say that Zen is being closed-minded to being close-minded.

The most revered figure following the Buddha was Nagarjuna who is best known for his doctrine of two truths. The essence of his teaching is that we have no choice except to employ conventional means of communication, which are admittedly illusionary, to ultimately destroy illusion. By using words (conventional abstractions: conditioned phenomena) the goal is to go beyond words to find ultimate truth.

The famous Diamond Sutra, held in high regard by Zen advocates, teaches this point, saying:

All conditioned phenomena
Are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, or shadows;
Like drops of dew, or flashes of lightning;
Thusly should they be contemplated.

The identity we value (self-image, the imagined “I”) lives within the illusion of what we ordinarily regard as mind―that is, the manifestations, which emerge from our true mind. According to Ch├ín Master Sheng Yen, (Complete Enlightenment—Zen Comments on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment)

“… there cannot be a self that is free from all obstructions. If there is a sense of self, then there are also obstructions. There cannot be obstructions without a self to create and experience them, because the self is an obstruction.”

Rationality came out of the Age of Enlightenment as a solution to religious dogma, but it has become a different form of dogma. I am not suggesting that we return to religious dogma. Dogma of any kind is what happens when we close our minds to suchness—to things as they truly are. Rather than swing from one dogma to another, or one set of illusions to another, what we need to do is dump all dogma and illusions and rid ourselves of bias, and delusion. That is the thrust of Zen. It is about seeing clearly, seeing things as they are rather than how we imagine they ought to be. Zen is about balance, integration, and harmony, and is opposed to imbalance, disintegration, and chaos.

Zen Master Huang Po spoke eloquently about the difference between conceptual ideologies and ultimate truth. He said, “If he (an ordinary man) should behold the glorious sight of all the Buddhas coming to welcome him, surrounded by every kind of gorgeous manifestations, he would feel no desire to approach them. If he should behold all sorts of horrific forms surrounding him, he would experience no terror. He would just be himself, oblivious of conceptual thought and one with the Absolute. He would have attained the state of unconditional being. This then is the fundamental principle.” (The Zen Teachings of Huang Po—On The transmission of Mind). Yes Zen is dogmatic but the target of this dogma is dogma.
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