Zen & Ripe Tomatoes

Q. Roshi, I've heard you in several debates now. Your manner is forceful but calm. You like wordplay & to make subtle jokes, sometimes so subtle they go unnoticed. Yet, listening to how other "Buddhists" sometimes deride & mock you I can't help feeling a trace sense of bitter sadness. How do you stand up to it? Can't you just knock them down by using their own preferred weapons of heavy sarcasm & online snark?

A. There have been endless debates throughout the history of Zen, of Buddhism, and of Yoga. These debates are ongoing and cannot always be avoided. But the best thing is to enter into the inconceivable and stay silent & alive there. The biggest trout lurk in the deepest pools of the stream. They hide themselves among the tree roots. Meantime, the trout that swim bright & streaking in the shallows are easily found & hooked & cooked & so end up swimming in lemon zest butter on someone's dinner plate. So it's as Lao-Tzu enjoined: Stay unknown, be alert, & cultivate your awareness by not engaging in too much analytical thought. Be the "dark depths mirror," the river dragon hiding the fantastic pearl.

Q. What about subscribing to the famous "correct view" that some Buddhists speak of but about which none seem to agree?

A. Ha ha. Yes. What's the correct view? Is it Madhyamaka? Is it Cittamatra? I know which views I prefer. I don't know which ones are correct, though. It seems to me that no-view is the ultimately correct view. Yet when I say this it makes some people go crazy.

Most of the debates you mention have to do with the nature of Enlightenment, or the "mysterious realization." I say that if you stop grasping-clinging thoughts (there are no other kind, until you've experienced a deep awakening), you don't have to do anything else -- the pure wisdom will shine forth out of you. But how do you stop grasping-clinging thoughts? There's the rub. Some Buddhists get very angry about the idea of meditating under freezing waterfalls or shouting "Ha!" at the sky to shatter your chain of thinking. They want to think their way into the mysterious realization, and once they get it they'd like to be able to write down exactly how it all came about in a best-selling book & go out touring in their monastic robes.

By contrast here is what I say, just to repeat:

Thoughts that grasp and cling at phenomena as "self" or "other" obstruct the lucid functioning of your inherent wisdom.

Stop the clinging-grasping thoughts and pure wisdom shines out by itself. (How do you stop clinging-grasping thoughts? Apply a forceful technique with absolute resolve. Once the technique has done its work, throw it away.)

Stabilize yourself in this wonderful & un-verbalizable state of non-dual experiencing. Why not? It's amazing!

Don't let anybody harangue you into thinking you've got to "do something more" or still less "prove that you're Enlightened" or that you understand the true and correct view of Buddhism.

Q. Hmm. What about this repetitive debate I've heard you engaged in over whether or not there is really such a thing as a "physical universe"? I've seen it become almost grotesquely emotional.

A. Take the attitude of "don't know." If you say there is definitely a physical universe apart from your consciousness, how do you arrive at this "definitely"? You can only know anything through your consciousness, isn't that so? You can't step completely out of the picture and see it all"objectively." If I look at a tomato, I'm seeing only one side of the tomato. Does the other side of the tomato exist? Theorize as much as you like. Say that yes, if this side of the tomato exists, then the other side must exist also, since tomatoes tend to have more than one side. Not to mention that the seeds must exist inside, even though you can't see them. I reply, It's juicy & refreshing, so who cares! Let's eat!

Q. Some people seem offended when you tell them nobody can find a material substrate for what we experience. They say they've been hit by a rock, for example, and the result was that they bled and felt pain, so this material reality definitely exists.

A. Sure. You can get hit by a rock in a dream, bleed copiously & feel agonizing pain. But when you wake up, where's the rock, where's the blood, where's the pain? Likewise, you can bite into a delicious red ripe tomato in a dream, and the seeds will squirt out and the juice will run down your chin, dripping onto the nice jacket your father gave you and causing you to cry with grief because it was his & now it's ruined. Then later on in the same dream your father shows up & gives you another, even more beautiful jacket & you laugh about it all together. When you wake up you wonder where all this dream-business about gift jackets ever came from, since you actually hated your father & he never gave you a nice thing in your whole life.

See what I mean? The dream keeps developing & changing, & so does this so called "physical universe" we're in. I see no reason to try to pin it all on "material stuff." Your consciousness does a fine job of inventing all sorts of crazy situations all by its lonesome, does it not? Except the waking world we share is a production of collective consciousness, whereas the dream world is just your own.

There's also the question of time, for example the past. You can remember being four years old vividly, very vividly sometimes. But your body isn't the same, your brain isn't the same. What's doing the remembering? It's mysterious. It's even mystical.

There are questions physical science can resolve for you, like the exact boiling temperature of water in Sante Fe, New Mexico, & then questions that it can't, like the true nature of your mind & how it sees & is aware of tasting big juicy tomatoes. I see no reason for people to get upset over all this. Do you really want to know everything? Do you think that's even possible?

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