Tuesday, November 04, 2008

To know without knowing...


The Sick Mind

To know without knowing is best.
Not knowing without knowing it is sick.

To be sick of sickness
is the only cure.

The wise aren't sick.
They're sick of sickness,
so they're well.


- Tao Te Ching #71 - Ursula K. LeGuin's rendition

LeGuin's commentary:
"What you know without knowing you know it is the right kind of knowledge. Any other kind (conviction, theory, dogmatic belief, opinion) isn't the right kind, and if you don't know that, you'll lose the Way. This chapter is an example of exactly what Lao Tzu was talking about in the last one - obscure clarity, well-concealed jade."

One of the features of eastern thought of the Taoist and Zen Buddhist sort is the idea of the primacy of intuitive knowledge rather than the rationalist knowledge that has been the overarching primary feature of western thought since the enlightenment.

What you know without knowing is true knowledge.

This concept is very dangerous if not understood thoroughly. It is very easy to say "Ok, I'll go with my gut instinct. Whatever comes into my head first must be intuitive and therefore right so I won't question it."

Um... not so much. This is the Bush approach. Go with your gut and don't question things. We fool ourselves into thinking our very shallow level thoughts are instinct or intuition or... a message from God.

This is sickness.

Zen Buddhism features emptiness as of critical importance.

From The Heart Sutra:


O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness, not born, not destroyed,
Not stained, not pure; without loss, without gain.
So in emptiness there is no form, no sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness.

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness,
No ignorance and no end to ignorance.



Unless you know Zen well that is an incredibly hard passage to fathom. But there are few ways to approach it. Unstained... There is another Taoist phrase that speaks to the heart of the matter... "The Sage leaves no traces."

The Zen Mind is often defined as a still pool of water reflecting the moon. Our minds are usually like a pool with a thousand constant ripples running through it. The ripples are our constant stream of thoughts. The reflection of the moon is distorted by all the activity of thought. If the wind dies down and nothing disturbs the pool then the water settles to a flat and placid mirror that accurately reflects the moon.

Likewise, if our minds become settled, placid, quiet then the reality of our environment can be taken in without pre-conceived notions, prejudices, and concepts staining and distorting actual reality.

Unstained, undistorted input allows us to respond according to circumstances, in-tune, in harmony, thereby leaving no traces because nothing has been forced, no exertion made because no resistance exists to a natural action.

Normal experience for humans beings is interpretive:

No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch, phenomena.
No realm of sight, no realm of consciousness,
No ignorance and no end to ignorance.


The six sense openings perceive the six objects, interpret them for display and definition within the mind.

How do we not do that? It is a natural sequence for us or so it seems.

I am currently reading "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po" - On the Transmission of Mind Translated by John Blofield.

There is a short sermon translated thusly:


This pure Mind, the source of everything, shines forever and on all with the brilliance of its own perfection. But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual brilliance of the source-substance. If they would only eliminate all conceptual thought in a flash, that source-substance would manifest itself like the sun ascending through the void and illuminating the whole universe without hindrance or bounds. Therefore, if you students of the Way seek to progress through seeing, hearing, feeling and knowing, when you are deprived of your perceptions, your way to Mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter. Only realize that, though real Mind is expressed in these perceptions, it neither forms part of them nor is separate from them. You should not start REASONING from these perceptions, nor allow them to give rise to conceptual thought; yet nor should you seek the One Mind apart from them or abandon them in your pursuit of the Dharma. Do not keep them nor abandon them nor dwell in them nor cleave to them. Above, below and around you, all is spontaneously existing, for there is nowhere which is outside the Buddha-Mind.


"But the people of the world do not awake to it, regarding only that which sees, hears, feels and knows as mind. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling and knowing, they do not perceive the spiritual...."

"Regarding only that which..." This common level of mind which is so attached to our eyes in particular, our ears, and our tongue and to a lesser degree our nose and body. The conscious level of reasoning mind which is constantly interpreting its sensory input, that which we see and hear, and responding with sensory output... thought and speech.

Caught up in this shallow surface level of mind we are blocked off from and "... do not perceive the spiritual..." level of existence that is going on all along.

Quiet the mind, close the doors, see the reality of existence as it really is and not as we interpret it to be based on our experience, what our parents have taught us, what society says is right or wrong, how our teachers have told us reality is, how politicians say things are, how the blaring constant noise of media, television, radio, books, newspapers, the internet, signs scream it is.

Quiet the mind, close the doors. Remove the filter of conditioning and pre-conceived notions of what we ought to be seeing, perceiving... and simply take in reality just as it is.

See without seeing. Hear wth hearing. Know without knowing.

If we harmonize ourselves with existence in this way then our natural place in it will be clear. Our actions and reactions will be obvious and also in harmony with our environment. We will know without knowing. And leave no traces.... no scars... no dis-harmony's.

1 comment:

Barry said...

Salt is salty, sugar is sweet.

Just words for now. But when we taste salt, taste sugar, then we know.

Thank you for this nice post!

Barry