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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 7

Chapter 11: Convergence

So far very little reference has been made to the vast body of literature supporting Buddhist doctrine, but it is important that the preceding chapters should be seen in context. Although modern scientific knowledge has made a new approach possible this book has, in fact, revealed nothing not known about for many centuries, even though the mode of expression may be very different.

The probable founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, gave us the Tao Te Ching, which deserves to be ranked as one of the great religious books of the World. In spite of its terse, epigrammatical style and difficulty in translation, anyone who has experienced, in meditation, the fundamental truths of Buddhism, will recognise the seeds that the Buddha brought to fruition.

At the other extreme in time the poets, philosophers and scientists of the recent past have struck many chords in harmony with Buddhism. In a book of this size it is clearly impossible to give more than a few examples of what the diligent reader can explore elsewhere, but the following extracts should help to complete the overall picture.

There are, however, dangers in making a study in depth too soon. Some of the scriptures are of doubtful authenticity, some are extremely esoteric in character and are little help to the newcomer, and some include special meditation techniques, such as the cemetery and body meditations, that are likely to be so distasteful to the novice that they could produce feelings of revulsion.

Of the New Wisdom Schools, the writings of Zen offer the prospect of either utter bewilderment, or ecstatic elation at the insights they reveal. Such is the paradox of Zen that the gap between these two states of mind is so small that it needs only the tiniest spark of intuition to bridge it — the problem is how to generate that spark! If, after much study, or tuition, it still eludes you, then Zen may not be the way for you, but the attempt is worth making.

Mention should be made of the epic poem by Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia, first published in 1879 and being an attempt to bring Buddhism to the notice of the general public in the West.

These extracts are from Book the Eighth:

Ye suffer from yourselves, None else compels,
None other holds you that ye live and die,
And whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss
Its spokes of agony,

Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness,
Behold, I show you Truth! Lower than hell,
Higher than Heaven, outside the utmost stars,
Farther than Brahm doth dwell,

Before beginning, and without an end,
As space eternal and as surety sure,
Is fixed a Power divine which moves to good,
Only its laws endure.

And again:

Pray not! The Darkness will not brighten! Ask
Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruits and cakes;
Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;
Each man his prison makes.

From the Tao Te Ching we get the first recorded insight into the nature of conceptual thought:

Tao was always nameless
When for the first time applied to function, it was named.
Inasmuch as names are given, one should also know where to stop.
Knowing where to stop one can become imperishable.

…and the way concepts create relativity by making distinctions, whereas the Tao is without distinction and is therefore indescribable:

When all the world understands beauty to be beautiful,
then ugliness exists.
When all understand goodness to be good,
then evil exists.
Thus existence suggests non-existence;
Easy gives rise to difficult;
Short is derived from long by comparison;
Low is distinguished from high by position;
After follows before;
Resonance harmonizes sound;
Therefore, the Sage carries on his business
without action,
and gives his teaching without words.

(The Tao Te Ching was written on tablets which became separated over the centuries and so could be re-assembled in any order. The writer has taken the liberty of transposing lines 9 and 10 of the translation by Ch’u Ta-Kao).

The last three lines of the extract cannot be understood without some intuitive interpretation. The Sage may be likened to the dog, which wags its tail but is not conscious of doing so; as a consequence the Sage’s life functions efficiently and virtually without effort. The last line is concerned with the Sage’s exposition of the Tao by example and personal charisma, without falling foul of the language trap.

Dr. Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki takes up the point of duality, in its application to the idea of a separate self, in his book, The Essence of Buddhism:

“What is wrong with intellection, or reasoning, is that by its dualism it sets up the idea of self as if it were a reality to which is to be given a specially honoured niche in the hall of human experience. As long as intellection is confined to its proper sphere of work, all is well, but the moment it steps out of it and invades a field which does not belong to it, the outcome is disastrous. For this stepping out means the setting up of the self as a reality, and this is sure to collide with our ethical and religious valuation of human life; it also runs contrary to our spiritual insight into the nature of things.” Later, Suzuki goes more deeply into the question of duality than has been attempted in this book; however, his exposition may be difficult to understand without some insight derived from meditational experience.

“The fundamental idea of Buddhism is to pass beyond the world of opposites, a world built up by intellectual distinctions and emotional defilements, and to realise a spiritual world of non-distinction, which involves an absolute point of view. Yet the Absolute is in no way distinct from the world of discrimination, for to think so would be to place it opposite the discriminating mind and so create a new duality. When we speak of an absolute, we are apt to think that, being the denial of opposites, it must be placed in opposition to the discriminating mind. But to think so is in fact to lower the Absolute into the world of opposites, necessitating the conception of a greater or higher absolute which will contain both. The Absolute, in brief, is in the world of opposites and not apart from it. This is apparently a contradiction. To go beyond this world will not help, nor to stay in it either. Hence the intellectual dilemma from which we all struggle in vain to escape.”

For those who have difficulty grasping the gist of such profound thinking the story of the missionary and the Maori chief may help:

An English missionary set out to convert the Maoris of New Zealand. He began with a Maori chief and drew a circle in the sand on the beach and said: “Inside that, you fella know.” The Maori nodded. The missionary then drew a larger circle round the first and said: “Inside that, I fella know.” The Maori nodded. He then drew a very large circle enclosing the other two and said: “Inside that, God fella know.” He stepped back and beamed at the Maori. The Maori chief nodded and said: “Outside that, God fella, he not know.”

No matter how large the missionary had made the outer circle there would always remain an area not bounded by it. If, on the other hand, he had told the Maori chief that the outer circle was infinite in size, and so could not be drawn, then neither he, nor the chief, could have had any conception as to its nature, or even whether it existed. This attempt to convey the idea of God to the Maori really amounted to a demonstration of the insoluble theological conundrum that if ‘All is God’, then there is no God (i.e. a duality between God and Man) but if ‘God is not All’, then God is not infinite. The Buddha is unique among all the great religious leaders in history in discovering the solution to this enigma.

From the Old Wisdom scriptures we find the true source of Enlightenment:

“Within our mind is a Buddha, and the Buddha within is the real Buddha. If the Buddha is not to be sought within, where shall we find the real Buddha? Doubt not that a Buddha is within your mind, apart from which nothing can exist.

Avert thy face from world deceptions, mistrust thy senses, they are false. But within thy body, the shrine of thy sensations, seek in the impersonal for the ‘Eternal Man’, and having sought him out, look inward; thou art Buddha.”

As to mistrusting the senses — when you see green grass do not believe that the grass possesses greenness, since the greenness is the product of the mind and is not in the grass.

The desire for Enlightenment is doomed to failure unless this and all other self-perpetuating desires are eliminated by having a pure experience, devoid of concepts and without clinging to these experiences as if they belonged to us. The obstacle to Enlightenment cannot be conquered by increasing conceptual knowledge, or by intellection, and the Buddha was careful not so say anything that would divert his followers’ attention from the Goal. From the Theravada Scriptures we get:

Once the Exalted One was staying at Kosambi, in the Sisu Grove. Then the Exalted One, taking up a handful of sisu leaves, said to the brethren:

“Now what think ye, brethren? Which are more, these few sisu leaves that I hold in my hand, or those that are in the Sisu Grove above?”

“Few in number, Lord, are those sisu leaves that are in the hand of the Exalted One; far more in number are those in the Sisu Grove above.”

“Just so, brethren, those things that I know by my super-knowledge, but have not revealed, are greater by far in number than those things that I have revealed. And why, brethren, have I not revealed them?

Because, brethren, they do not conduce to profit, are not concerned with the holy life, they do not tend to repulsion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to the super-knowledge, to the perfect wisdom, to Nirvana. That is why I have not revealed them.”

Man’s obsession with the death of the body has resulted in craving for eternal life; this has led to theories and doctrines in all religions, and Buddhism is no exception. Before his Enlightenment the Buddha, as a wandering mendicant, pondered deeply about this ‘problem’ and the story of Kisagotami and the mustard seed, in The Light of Asia, deals with a mother’s futile search for a cure that would bring her dead child back to life:

“My sister! thou hast found”, the Master said,
“Searching for what none finds — that bitter balm
I had to give thee. He thou lovedst slept
Dead on thy bosom yesterday, today
Thou know’st the whole wide world weeps with thy woe;

The grief which all hearts share grows less for one
Lo! I would pour my blood if it could stay
Thy tears and win the secret of that curse
Which makes sweet love our anguish, and which drives —
O’er flowers and pastures to the sacrifice —
As these dumb beasts are driven — men their lords,
I seek that secret; bury thou thy child!”

Buddhist doctrines about the ‘after life’ range from the notion, in Zen, that since the Here and Now is the only reality, we are continuously being re-born from one moment to the next, to the doctrines in both the Old and New Wisdom Schools concerning re-birth. We should be wary of devoting too much time to these doctrines because:

“…they do not conduce to profit, are not concerned with the holy life, they do not tend to repulsion, to cessation, to tranquillity, to the super-knowledge, to the perfect wisdom, to Nirvana.”

And why do they not do this? Because they can be meaningful only when there is a concept of a separate self to be re-born — they cannot apply to the meditational experience.

The last extract is from the writings of the great scientist and humanitarian, Albert Einstein:

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description … If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”

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