Master Zhiyi and the Thinking of the Unthinkable

Q: I notice that on your blog you often champion "cutting off the way of thinking" as a way to attain the "subtle realization" or "playful samadhi" state eccentric Zen Master Mumon Ekai talks about in the first case of the Mumonkan.

A: Of course. Your question?

Q: I recently ran across this passage from Zhiyi, a Tientai priest, and it got me thinking:
How could the coarse thinkable be different from the marvelous unthinkable? Without leaving words and letters we can thus speak the meaning of liberation. The crux is just to realize how the thinkable is identical to the unthinkable. 
So my question to you is just this -- how could Satori exist only outside of language? How could enlightenment not be able to manifest itself also in words and letters? Is it so limited?

A: That's a beautiful passage. Zhiyi was a great Master. What's more, it's entirely true. Zhiyi is right. But this is a yogic -- a procedural -- issue. The necessary separation from thought is not a permanent state. It's just a way to see It directly. Once you've seen it directly, there's no problem with thinking. Until you've seen it directly, there is. So, yes, enlightenment certainly manifests itself in words and letters, and also through and beyond words and letters. In an even more profound sense, since words and letters are nothing in themselves, they can manifest the through and beyond nature of enlightened being as nothing else ever can or will. But in Zen, it isn't by looking into manifestation, however brilliant, that one achieves Satori. The Zen yoga is to decisively cut one's perception off from names and forms. How should you do this? Just be thoughtlessly alert to how "all this" is appearing right now in your eyes, ears &c. Don't reject it because you think it's an illusion, don't hold onto it because you think it's real. Appreciate the sheer quality and energy of it, and how distinct it is from any possible "thoughts" one might form about it. If you stop at a window and see the rain, and your mind says, "It's raining," you should instantly make yourself alert to your instantaneous seeing of rain beyond any reflexive thinking about it. You should make yourself stand at the window for a little longer really looking on with alertness until something definite happens in your perception that separates it from any possible thought. You will know it when it happens, because you've experienced it before. In fact, it's your ancestral home.

Q: Won't this practice just destroy my ability to do any real thinking?

A: Let's say it will create a momentary separation from thought. If the separation is sudden and complete enough, this is Satori. Once you've had satori, you won't be confused. You won't think your thinking is anything other than unthinkable.

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