Q: What do you mean by transcendence?
A: Can you see “that” which asks this question? Can you hear it? Can the nose smell it or can the tongue taste it? Can you become conscious of it? In truth, you cannot. And because you can’t, something mysterious transcends the sphere of the six senses.
Q: But if I can’t perceive it, it doesn’t exist. So, why even bother with transcending?
A: You can’t see wind either or hear vision or see smells. But that does not prove the nonexistence of wind, vision or smell. If we wish to stop suffering, then we must turn to that which is free of suffering–despite the fact that the senses can’t see it. The very minute we do, that is transcendence.
Q: You are saying then, that the Buddha’s enlightenment is outside of the sphere of the six senses.
Q: But that sounds like some kind of God or Soul. Didn’t the Buddha deny an absolute? Isn’t this world, itself, the absolute when we see it as being purely empty–when we empty it of form?
A: Not to my recollection–although many academic Buddhists think so. He just pointed out that such words, rather than being vital and real, evoke impermanent mental images which should be recognized to be empty. What is absolute, is beyond the emptiness of speech and mental imagining. Nor can it be experienced as some gurus imagine.
Q: You didn’t answer the second part of my last question. Isn’t this world the absolute when we see it as empty?
A: Some Buddhists, I am sure, believe that. It is like making a mountain into rocks, then crushing the rocks into powder, then making the powder into aether! But that is a destructive view. The true nature of the cosmos is already empty; it cannot be made empty a second time. It is like watching ripples of water. Only the form changes–the content is still the same.
Q: To me, this is just a bunch of mystical mumbo-jumbo. I find it just to be word-games. It doesn’t help our world one bit. So-called transcending, I am convinced, won’t do a single thing to help anyone, least of all, a starving child. Isn’t this kind of Zen irrelevant? In our Zen center we are helping each other to become better human beings and to make this world a better place.
A: To make the world a better place, as you use the term, only means to make people comfortable. On the other hand, what the Buddha preached and what the Zen masters of old transmitted, was a means for making us truly happy by learning how to distinguish the undying from the mortal. As a result, it is possible to stop clinging to finite appearances such as this mortal dung heap which is a lasting cause of sorrow. Personally, I think it is better to be comfortable and wise, rather than be comfortable and ignorant. Your approach is too narrow. You can’t exclude the mysterious. If you want to give everyone mental problems, then destroy the mystical. But such a path, I must add, is one of lasting alienation.
Q: What do you mean by that last remark?
A: At the deepest level, we are Buddhas. But by looking outwards to what is an image of our Buddha-nature, we become confused because we can’t see our imageless Buddha-nature. Nothing lines up, so to speak. This is alienation which is the difference between our Buddha-potentiality and our current state of progress marching towards Buddhahood. In addition, this is disharmony which is the same as suffering. Now, what you propose is that we all give up the long march towards harmony with our original Buddha-nature and turn into moralists, instead. Well, by doing that, alienation can only get worse-not better. Don’t you see that we are all unhappy because we are not practicing the Dharma, learning how to remember our Buddha-nature?
Q: But aren’t we really unhappy because we haven’t the things we need and require as human beings?
A: When I was a little boy, we lived with no electricity. We had an old radio with “B-batteries”. We even had a Ward’s icebox that held a huge block of ice in it! Now we have electricity, T.V., computers and refrigerators–but we are still unhappy. Everyone is on Prozac–even little children. Something is wrong. Technology isn’t making anyone happy–I like the good old days anyway! Seriously, we have to look within, trying instead, to remember where our Buddha-nature is located. Life will become happy again if we do that. I know that to be a fact.
Q: So you are saying that to study the Dharma will make us feel less alienated?
A: Yes. And to follow the ways of the world will make you unhappy. And to follow religions which only teach you how to cope with the ways of the world will make you unhappy. However, the more you study authentic Dharma, the less medications you will need [laughing].
Text by Zenmar, the Dark Zen mystic
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