Ordinary Mind Is The Way, Part 3
There is one more section of the koan that deserves special attention. It is: ““Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is confusion and indecision.”
You should know that Shibayama, whom I regard as the gold standard, translates this line as, “Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is blankness” (emphasis added).
Let’s parse this section carefully, since it launches the part of the koan that led to the youthful Zhaozhou’s first enlightenment experience under Nanchuan.
“Dao does not belong to knowing or not-knowing” is a validation by the great teacher Nanchuan of a point that I have been trying to make in every post before this one. That is, that Zen views words as inadequate to express the whole of our human experience, which includes feelings and intuitions that are subjectively “real” to us but cannot be fully expressed in words.
For that reason, I have argued that such “states of mind” are most fully expressed by the actions we perform when we are experiencing a specific feeling in that very moment. I have also argued that our response to a given koan must therefore be conveyed in a “bodily” fashion including movements, gestures and utterances of the kind philosophers call “speech acts”
In the case of koans, I have said that any verbal utterance is not important for its semantic content but only for what it directly conveys about your view of reality.
Now, why is it that this kind of “embodied” communication does not belong to knowing or not-knowing?
It is because knowledge is conventionally regarded as being expressible in words in the form of “facts”, such as “Charlemagne was King of the Franks”. Facts are typically in the form of propositions that, if fully expanded, would say, “x is true”, where x is the fact being stated.
In recent Western philosophy such statements are called “knowing that x”, and are to be distinguished from “knowing how knowledge”. The latter concerns how we do something – what we commonly call “know-how”. Riding a bicycle, for instance, requires knowing how to keep your balance, something that cannot be described in words, but must be learned in the body. This relatively recent distinction shows that Western philosophy is now edging toward a conclusion that Chinese Zen Masters made more than a thousand years ago: that a verb is more revelatory than a noun, and that a verb’s fuller content cannot be captured in a series of nouns or categories.
As I have said many times, Dao does not belong to knowing and not-knowing because it shows itself via actions, rather than says what it is via words. How our united body-mind acts moment to moment cannot be represented in words, which only speak indirectly about this living flow of action. As Dizang told Fayan, “from the point of view of Buddhism, everything directly presents itself”. This means that the only way you can present the “how” (or Dao) of action is to re-enact that action whole-heartedly with your own body-mind right now.
The mature Zhaozhou, when asked to say something about Dao, simply said, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Such skillful means (upaya)! This says everything that has been said in this blog about our Way not being a “thing”, but rather a dynamic “working” or flow of action that cannot be exhaustively explained in words.
That is enough of our review. We must now to return to parsing the next challenging sentence, “Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is blankness.”
First, why is knowing “delusion”? We have just said that knowledge consists of “facts” stated in words (or in the mathematics of physics). Aren’t facts valid knowledge proven by the scientific method? Are we saying that even these proven scientific truths are delusions?
In the first centuries of “our common era” (i.e. the years A.D) Buddhism rendered this apparent denial of our common sense benign by declaring that there are two kinds of truth, each valid in its sphere: conventional truth and ultimate truth.
“Conventional truth” is the truth of “objective reality” as required by our linguistic and mathematical conventions. Such conventions are needed for human survival, human communication and society itself. This “two-truth theory” says that we may rely on conventional truth for all of our social objectives, including science and technology.
On the other hand, “ultimate truth” goes beyond objective reality to cover the reality of our subjective lives, including our feelings, desires, hopes, and fears. The ultimate truth of Zen is that all these subjective states are figments of our imagination insofar as they are based on belief in a “self”. Thus, the idea of an independent self that needs hypervigilance to protect itself from the rest of the universe is a delusion because it springs from ignorance of our true nature.
Realizing that our common sense view of self is an empty construct (a delusion) devoid of any real substance, is a seismic event that ultimately sweeps like a tsunami through our common sense views of objective reality as well. We see that all of our concepts of “things” are limited by the self-ish  purposes for which we want to use them. As such, they are suspect of being incomplete at best, and deceptive at worst.
This brings us to the second clause, “not-knowing is blankness.” Here you may have detected a dissonance between Shibayama’s “not-knowing is blankness” and the preceding three-part blog on “Not knowing is most intimate”. In those posts, not-knowing was described as a positive step on the path to enlightenment by leading to a nondual union of subject and object. Here in contrast, the word “blankness” seems to hint at a paralyzing inability to unite with anything whatsoever. Thus, both knowing and not knowing are incapable of leading us to enlightenment.
Is there a way to reconcile the “intimacy of not-knowing” with the “blankness of not-knowing” so that we can affirm them both? Yes, I see two ways, one obvious and one subtle.
The obvious way to reconcile intimacy and blankness is to assign them to two different states of mind. The intimacy of not-knowing, as we said in those earlier posts, consists of absolute acceptance of, and union with, what is before us, leading to a spontaneous and appropriate response.
On the other hand, the blankness of not-knowing is what happens when we have absolutely no idea of what to do in response to a question. It is the same as being “flummoxed”, “baffled” or “bewildered”. I believe this is why Sekida chooses to translate “blankness” as “confusion”.
This kind of blankness or confusion is familiar to koan students, who often don’t know what to say or do to answer the teacher’s questions during interviews. The student’s glum silence can be quite embarrassing to the student, but not to the teacher. The teacher responds by calmly ringing for the next student, but may also exhort the student to try harder, or briefly suggest a new way of looking at the problem. In any case, the student becomes increasingly motivated to say or do something – anything – in the next interview. This is as it should be.
Thus, the not-knowing that is intimate and the not-knowing that is blankness each have their own proper sphere. These two spheres can be described quite simply: “blankness” applies to people who have not yet had an insight into their true nature (kensho), while “intimacy” applies to people who have had at least an initial insight into that nature.
In Case 19, the youthful Zhaozhou still believes it is possible to “know” Dao. It is only when he is told that Dao is like an immaculate void, in which right and wrong serve no purpose and drop away, that he had an insight. Before those turning words, he was in a state of blankness as shown by his need to ask, “What is Dao?”
At that point, Zhoazhou’s blankness is that of someone who doesn’t have the insight needed to answer his own question. He is still confused and poses question after question based on that lack of insight until Nanchuan “shuts his yap for him”, as Zhaozhou himself said much later about his own technique with students.
In contrast, Fayan achieved an initial insight into, and intimacy with, his own true nature when he heard Dizang say, “Not knowing is most intimate”. As an expert in Buddhist philosophy, he was in a perfect position to suddenly see that his many writings could never fully exhaust human reality, and that the reality of being human could only be fully experienced by a person who puts no preconceptions in the way of that experience.
So what kind of presentation should a koan student make to demonstrate their understanding of “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”? I will only say that almost anything that shows you living your daily life will do. There is no need to for that demonstration to show that you have attained “true ordinary mind”; your presentation of your daily machinations will show the teacher that you understand that your true ordinary mind shines through everything you do.
Finally, I will add an extended comment that Buddhists with an interest in Buddhist thought might want to consider. This is the second, “subtle” way to reconcile opposites that I mentioned earlier.
In researching the two Chinese characters that were translated either as “blankness” or “confusion”, I found that they are a rare combination that was used to translate a Sanskrit epistemological term inherited from early Indian Buddhism. That term means “indeterminate”, or “unascertainable”, and it was applied to the series of thorny metaphysical questions that an Indian philosopher asked the Buddha and that he chose to answer by remaining silent.
Clearly, the Buddha’s silence was “thundering”, as they say of Vimalakirti’s silence in answer to similar questions. Their silence meant that there was no need to ask such questions, and that they have already automatically "dropped away" because they never actually arise in our true nature. After all, once we understand the emptiness of our true nature, such questions will be seen as delusions resulting from our ignorance that should be cast away before they become impediments to our Buddhist Way.
For me, this stance indicates that we should see that any polarity, such as between blankness and intimacy or knowing and not knowing, is a form of dualism that must ultimately be cast away, no matter how helpful it is for pointing a student in the right direction (upaya).
Even more significantly, it means that all polarities of opposites and all resulting dualisms are already eliminated, even for those without insight! For Buddhists, it is settled that we are already enlightened, even when we don’t realize it. As I said above, your true ordinary mind underlies everything you do and shines through those actions even if you don’t notice it!
But how is that possible? It is possible in the same way that “form is already emptiness and emptiness is already form” is possible. It is possible in the same way as “samsara is already nirvana and nirvana is already samsara” is possible. Fundamentally, every polarity vaporizes because the two poles regarded as “opposites” by common sense are ultimately seen as being totally interdependent and interpenetrating. This applies to our notions of good and bad as well, meaning that our true ordinary mind spans both like a bridge.
This may strike the reader as “a bridge too far” to cross. Don’t worry about this addendum; just keep an open mind about its possible implications. Does this addendum mean that you must alter your presentation of “Ordinary Mind Is The Way”? No. If you have understood these added comments at all, you will see that no change is needed. The same true ordinary mind will shine through your actions.
 Many translators use the words, “the Dao”, in contexts like this. I follow Shibayama who I believe drops the “the” because it encourages the unschooled reader to think Dao is a “thing” or some separate realm.
 As I admitted in the endnotes to Part 1, this was my own preferred reading for pedagogical reasons. I took the word “confusion” from the translation of Katsuki Sekida. I then added the word “indecision” to describe the effect confusion has on someone facing a tough question.
 Throughout this Part 3, I have used Shibayama’s hyphenated version of “not knowing”. I believe he intended thereby to put our conventional term “not knowing” into the same category as “not-self” and “not-mind”, Zen terms that connote that, for those who have directly seen their true nature, self and mind are identical with the “not-self” and “not-mind”. This may be significant for reasons set out at the very end of this post. There, I believe that Shibayama would agree that all dualisms are already eliminated as implied by the identity of mind and not-mind.
 They are considered “acts” because they produce an intended effect on all listeners rather than conveying information. The classic example of a speech act is the utterance “I do” in a marriage ceremony; this utterance has major social effects beyond letting others know that the bride and groom are glad.
 This is why some koans consist of Masters answering a student’s question about Dharma by quoting from an ancient poem describing the flora of a beautiful locale that seemingly has nothing to do with the subject of the student’s question. The poem is the Master’s effort to get the student to drop their logic-chopping question and directly experience the sublime wholeness of reality.
 Readers with some knowledge of twentieth-century philosophy will be reminded of the show vs. say distinction made by the early Wittgenstein, who said that the words of a sentence are a “picture” of a logical reality. But he allowed for “mystical” statements that attempt to show rather than say the reality of the unsayable. The later Wittgenstein changed his view of linguistic meaning from one of “logical pictures” corresponding to “states of affairs” in the world, to a view in which meanings were the manifold human uses that human beings put to combinations of words. Thus in both the early and the late Wittgenstein, he gestured toward the unsayability of human actions that can only be shown in human actions. This similarity to Buddhism and Zen has been noted by several Western philosophers.
 The word “selfish” will not do here because it means being greedy or covetous to a morally unacceptable degree. I use the word “self-ish”, not to make any moral judgment, but to describe any action that springs from our egocentric belief in a self, whether or not it is selfish in the moral sense.
 Surprisingly (or not!), those questions were the same as Kant’s “antinomies” about whether space, time, and the universe, were finite or infinite or had a beginning or end. In Kant’s view, we need to postulate answers based on an intrinsic religious faith. In contrast, the Buddha’s silence covered all four possible answers to any question as recognized in Indian logic. These were: the answer is “yes”, the answer is “no”, the answer is “both”, the answer is “neither”. A seasoned Buddhist might be tempted to answer, “both” or “neither” – or even, “all of the above”! Buddha’s silence denies us such philosophical satisfaction, and forces us to discover our unsayable true nature.
 In the first century A.D. Vimalakirti Sutra, a prosperous and virtuous Buddhist layman is asked by the primordial Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Manjushri) to give his views on dualism and nondualism after first giving Vimalakirti his own view, which was that we fall immediately into dualism when we try to explain something in words. When it came time for Vimalakirti to give his view, he remained silent with a fierce expression. Manjushri conceded this was the better answer. Like the Buddha’s silence, even if we can argue that Manjushri’s view was true in some sense, it is still not as complete as Vimalakirti’s action.
 Zhaozhou took his name from his temple’s location in a town with a famous bridge. He was once asked by a monk, “What is the bridge of Zhaozhou?” This was a clever way of asking, “What is the mind of Zhaozhou?” or, “What is enlightenment?” He replied, “Horses and donkeys cross over it”. He meant that better and worse qualities cross though our minds freely. This was a consummately skillful metaphor for our true ordinary mind.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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