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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
winter 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 31 Which brings us to the way in which Zen deals directly with Nagarjuna. Doing so involves a bit more math in the form of the “one hundred nega- tions,” but we needn’t spend much time on it. According to Shunryu Suzuki, we arrive at one hundred negations by negating the singular, plural, existing, and nonexisting versions of all four logical forms from the tetralemma, multiplying by three for past, present, and future, then multiplying by two—nuomenal and phenomenal—and adding the originalfour:4x4x3x2+4=100. Consider the twenty-fifth case of the Gateless Gate. In a dream, Yang Shan goes to see Maitreya Buddha. everyone is already seated in meditation, and Yang Shan is directed to the third seat. This is a very high seat, the third seat. It’s not the first, not the second, but still, it’s pretty good. So he sits in the third seat and an announcement is made: “The talk today will be given by the monk of the third seat.” Unfazed, Yang Shan gets up, hits the table with the gavel, and says, “The dharma of the Mahayana goes beyond the four propositions and transcends the one hundred negations; listen care- fully, listen carefully.” The four propositions and the one hundred negations—that’s a direct reference to Nagarjuna. Consider also the seventy-third case of the Blue Cliff Record. In this case, a monk says to Ma Tsu, “I’m not asking you about the four propositions and the one hundred negations. But please tell me why Bodhidharma came to China.” Ma Tsu answers, “I’m tired today and can’t explain it to you. Go ask Xi Tang.” So the monk goes to Xi Tang, who says to him, “Why didn’t you ask Ma Tsu?” The monk says, “I did! But he told me to ask you.” Xi Tang says, “I have a headache today and can’t explain it. Go ask Bai Shang.” So the monk goes to Bai Shang who says, “I don’t have anything to say about this.” The monk goes back to Ma Tsu, tells him the whole story, and Ma Tsu says, “Xi Tang has white hair and Bai Shang has black hair.” Yang Shan, in his dream, says, “The dharma of the Mahayana goes beyond the four propositions and the one hundred negations.” Going beyond the four propositions and the one hundred negations is exactly what Ma Tsu does when he says, “Xi Tang has white hair and Bai Shang has black hair.” In fact, he went beyond them earlier when he said he was tired, as did Xi Tang when he said he had a headache, as did Bai Shang when he said he had nothing to say. Like those Chan monks and masters up in the Chinese hills a thousand years ago, Nagarjuna did not always live in abstractions. He was a famous guy after all, an advisor to kings. In one famous let- ter to a patron, he wrote in graphic detail about the suffering or pleasure that results from negative or positive rebirth. But it is his abstractions that have the power to change our lives. Since I discovered the Mulamadhyamakarika, it has been my companion on solo retreats. When obsessions, fears, distractions take over—and over weeks or months they will, guaranteed—to be reminded that “is” is not, “not is” is not, “is and is not” is not, “not (is and is not)” is not, this is liberation, this is the way out of the hells we so easily fall into. “Oh, it isn’t like that.” Whatever it is, it isn’t like that. And when you think it’s something else, it isn’t that either. My teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn, called this don’t know: “Just keep this don’t know mind!” Then, like Ma Tsu, we can see that Xi Tang has white hair and Bai Shang has black hair. We know when to step for- ward and when to step backward. We know when to reach out a hand and how to use it. Subject and object no longer blind us; the interpenetration of all beings becomes completely ordinary. everyone has moments like this. And then everyone forgets. Nagarjuna reminds us, with all his negations: oh, yes, this. Every time we try to say something, we are making a big mistake—we are pointing away from truth.