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Buddhadharma : Fall 2006
buddhadharma| 33 |fall 2006 intestine. You know, science tells us that the par- ticles, the essential particles of this lectern, are as far apart from each other as the Earth is from the nearest star, in relation to their size. I imagine that when you examine those essential particles, you find they are not essential at all, but are made up of even more basic particles that are further from each other than the earth is from the nearest star, in relation to their size. Question: Boy, you’ve lost me [laughter]. Response: Yes, I’ve lost your cortex, and I apol- ogize. But your large intestine is serene, I dare say. I am reminded of the story Gary Snyder tells about the Native American shaman explaining how a turtle supports our continent, and another turtle supports the first turtle, with supportive turtles, one below the other, all the way down. Question: Not really empty. Response: Exactly. I have an idea that the two theories of light can be explored ad infinitum too. It took a Nils Bohr to cut through the limitations of the cortex and present the natural fact. It takes the Zen student to do the same thing. A simple experience like rolling over in bed can show that everything is empty, totally empty, with not a par- ticle to be seen anywhere, if one is prepared for the experience and can handle it when it comes. Question: How does one handle it? Response: By remembering to floss. Question: Isn’t that form? Response: Indeed it is. Right you are. “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on ad infinitum.” It may be “turtles all the way down,” but they don’t stop being tur- tles. The Zen experience is altogether different. There are two ways to understand emptiness: First, it is true for phenomena. As we discussed in that question-and-answer session, the particles that make up a thing are as far apart from each other as the earth is from the nearest star, in rela- tion to their size. And whereas it is possible to weigh those particles, it is also possible to show that they have no weight. What are you left with? Zilch, nada, mystery. The second way to understand emptiness is to realize that words and concepts, including all the rich categories of Buddhism from the three jewels to the three poisons, have a purely provisional sta- tus and a purely utilitarian value. There is no exist- ing entity to which they correspond.1 That takes care of Buddhism, one might suppose, not to men- tion all other religions and moral philosophies. But not so fast. Emptiness is form. The beauty of the Mahayana lies in the experience it offers of grandfather complementarity: A is not true, at least not fundamentally. Likewise B. Now AB – that’s a different story, a different foundation. It is AB that every master seeks to clarify, and every writer on Zen worth his or her salt seeks to clarify. The 8,000 lines of the Prajnaparamita Sutra were set forth succinctly in the Heart Sutra, and commentaries by the great Fazang and a few others clarified the multivolume Huayan Sutra.2 The cases studied in Zen offer the clarification of both sutras in succinct wording that is conducive to realization experience. A monk asked Zhaozhou in all earnestness, “Does a dog have buddhanature, or not?” Zhaozhou said, “Mu.” Or at least that’s the way we say it, using the Japanese of our old teachers, which is probably close to the Tang-period pronunciation used by Zhaozhou. Mu means “does not have,” but, as I assured a certain new student, that wasn’t Zhaozhou’s point entirely. Time after time, the student came to me for consultation. I would ask, “What is mu?” He would just stare back at me and say nothing. It might have seemed that he was not progressing, but I learned better from his girlfriend. “I am wor- ried about him,” she said, “He is always weep- ing.” Heartened by this good news, I continued to wait. And wait, and wait. I don’t have permission to tell the rest of the story. Suffice it to say that it has a happy ending 1 Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p. 40. 2 Ibid., pp. 32 − 33, 48, 59. PhotoGraPhbyiraliPPke,CourtesyoftheartistandaCeGallery,losanGeles