July 2, 2017
So Stupid That You Don't Even Know You're Stupid
I'll say something about Enlightenment for a change. It's funny because I think it is the easiest topic to deal with in Buddhism. You can make it super complicated. Master Dogen wrote very complicated philosophical analysis of enlightenment, or realization of truth. But just because someone wrote complicated things about it, it doesn't mean the thing itself is complicated. And I am not saying master Dogen made a mistake or made something or wrote something unnecessary. There are reasons why Buddhist philosophy becomes very analytical at times. But I don't want to get there now.
Let me just say that enlightenment isn't very complicated. It is nothing. It doesn't exist. I don't mean it is something we should forget as a concept or a goal or something. I am just saying that it doesn't exist. It is not on the right, it is not on the left, it is not under you, not above you, not inside you, not anywhere. And yet it is something Buddhism deals with all the time and Buddha attained, according to the teaching. I am not saying that Buddha didn't attain enlightenment. But I could also say he attained nothing with it. Or it was nothing to attain. It was nowhere, but he attained it. That nowhere was something he attained. We attain in all the time, but we do not think about it, or we think about it in a way, that is not very useful. For example, you may want to attain enlightenment. That is not very useful, to want to attain enlightenment. Because like that you want to attain something. But attaining enlightenment is not attaining enlightenment so it is useless to want to attain "it". It would be more logical to want to attain nothing. But how do you want to attain nothing? You could also say that you want to make Nothing into Something. If enlightenment is nothing, then it is not necessary to attain it. But that is not so. Buddha attained something. But that something was not something. It was not something we can point to. He attained something we cannot point to, yet he attained it. So what did he attain? It wasn't nothing, it wasn't something, it was just himself at this moment. It was his very experience. He experienced himself completely and he noticed. We experience ourselves completely very often, but we don't notice or we are not sure what it is. But Buddha realized that that complete self was what he had been looking for. If you are looking for complete self and then recognize it, the self where you and the external world, your body and mind, you and the universe become one, when everything is just like this, if you recognize what it is, you may call that attaining the truth. But still, it is not something noble or higher or deep or spiritual or something one could boast about. Because it is not something You Attain, rather something that Attains Itself, you cannot say You have or own or know the Truth. It is not something one could possess or boast. It is truly not something. It is a glass of wine or a piece of paper or dishes in the sink waiting to be washed. So who could boast about something like that. If you can point to dirty dishes in the sink and say, hey, my enlightenment, right in the sink , you see? You can do that but it is silly. Everyone can see the dirty dishes in the sink. If you know what they are, then good for you, but still it is not Yours. It is its. It is itself. You cannot stick to it. And if you do, it is not there any more. So attaining enlightenment and boasting about it would be the same as saying I have never attained enlightenment and have no idea what it is. It is the same thing.
But is there some kind of experience that shows in the way we talk, behave, write or argue with others? If somebody attains the truth, do they know something we don't know, do they know how to act, how to talk, how to teach Buddhism, etc? Well to attain the truth would be to go and wash the dishes. You could say, right, everyone can do that. But there is a little difference.
Let me tell you what I think makes a difference between mature Buddhists and beginners. Let's not make too many silly categories, like five ranks or such. Let's say there are beginners and mature practitioners. Lets' say a beginner goes and washes the dishes, just like a master. The difference is that a beginner, typically, is not sure, if going and washing the dishes is the most important thing. A beginner typically is not sure whether washing dishes means to express the truth. They are not sure if thats' the whole of Buddhist teaching. They typically imagine that masters know more, that masters wash the dishes better, that masters talk better, that masters know a lot of secrets and have some special skills or even magic powers. paradoxically enough, these Buddhist teachers sometimes say that beginners are actually our Buddhist role models. A beginner, not knowing anything about Buddhism, is a complete buddha. Because they don't know much or anything about Buddhism, they just go and wash the dishes, go and sleep, wake up, go to the zendo, bow and practice zazen with others. Nothing else. But such beginners are very very rare. On the other hand, this beginner's quality, this simplicity, is our Buddhist goal. In a way, we want to become perfectly stupid. Rather than washing dishes and saying how wonderful it is and how enlightened we are when we wash the dishes, we should just wash the dishes. Rather than writing about Buddhism I should watch Tour de France, stupidly. Instead I am writing about Buddhism, and I hope it is not too stupid. But it should be. Ideally it should be perfectly stupid. It should be so stupid that I wouldn't even know how stupid it is. It should be absolutely ignorant. Then the writing would be on par with true meaning of Buddhism. Not writing about enlightenment, but watching TV and sip some beer. We cannot stress enough how important complete stupidity is in Buddhism. Maybe the major problem of most people who practice Buddhism is that they are not stupid enough. No matter how hard they try to understand Buddhism, they are not stupid enough, too clever, still too clever. That is my problem, really. Always too clever, never stupid enough.
I will try to explain now why extreme stupidity is something we should cherish in Buddhism. And for the record, master Dogen didn't write Shobogenzo in order to make us clever or spiritual or deeply enlightened. I think he put so much effort into his writing hoping somebody will be able to transform the understanding of his teaching into perfect stupidity. perfect stupidity means we can have a glass of wine. No Buddhism is added, no ideas about enlightenment, no ideas about Dogen, nothing, just a glass of wine. If you want to have a glass of wine, completely, you must, there is absolutely no other way, no excuse, but you must become perfectly stupid. Then a glass of wine is a glass of wine. A Korean Zen teacher, Gu Ja, said in a talk recently, I watched that video a few hours ago, she said, we should just eat, sleep and take a shit. See? She is a certified Korean Zen Master. She explains in her talk that if we do not add anything to our lives, if we only eat, sleep and take a shit, it is a great gift for everyone, for the whole universe. She means that whatever we add to our lives, knowledge, wisdom, practice, money, career, children, love, hatred... she means of course, we have zillions of things in our lives, we make something complicated all the time, we study science or languages, we travel, we marry, divorce, have operations, make transactions... so our lives are very complicated, but as a zen master, she says, no, no, just eating, sleeping and taking a shit is enough. That means basically it is not our task to become great or better than others. It is not our task to become enlightened and then talk about it or tell others how to be enlightened. Our task, according to Buddhism, is to be absolutely simple.
And you can say, of course, thats' perfectly impossible. This is nonsense, what she is saying. Nobody can just eat, sleep and take a shit, only animals, but not human beings. Impossible. But she doesn't mean we shouldn't drink wine, or shouldn't study science or teach philosophy or write novels or fall in love or divorce or play golf or buy a house in Florida. She only means eating, sleeping and taking a shit is more that enough. She means: feel free to do zillions of things. Feel free to get a degree, start a family, get a Nobel prize, make thing super complicated, get imprisoned, go nuts, whatever you please... but don't you ever think that all of those things were important or necessary. She means our civilization is something given, we cannot ignore it, we cannot avoid the modern life, unless we go to the jungle and live in a tribe. If we live in a tribe, then living simply, eating, sleeping, taking a shit and maybe hunting from time to time, making love, from time to time, would be close to the ideal she mentions. But that's not the point. She says, look, people, don't believe that I, as a zen master, they call her a zen master, so she means, I, as a zen master, haven't contributed anything special, haven't done anything special and whatever I have added to eating, sleeping and taking a shit, was not really necessary. So teaching Buddhism and being called a zen master doesn't make me a zen master. If I just eat, sleep and take a shit, that would make me a real zen master. She means that we usually forget how silly we are, how we overestimate human intelligence, how we let our clever ideas obstruct who we are in fact: stupid creatures, naked simpletons walking around talking and being clever, almost all the time. Zen does not add anything to our bare life. If it does, it is not zen. My teacher doesn't tell me how to live. He has never told me how to live. But he has suggested many times, that I may have some funny ideas about myself and the others. Weird ideas, unnecessary ideas. Weird ideas about Buddhism or enlightenment. So this Korean zen master comes and says, eating, sleeping and taking a shit should do. It is great that people get Nobel prizes and go to the Moon and take a picture there. We take selfies. Great. But we usually forget what we are. Not so clever, not so great, not so enlightened, and we underestimate the power of a good shit. We hardly ever notice how important it is to take a shit. We are making some progress when it comes to food, we are beginning to understand what our bodies really need. But as for shit, we are not so experienced.
Seriously, the aim of our practice should be going toward stupidity and end up at the toilet. But that doesn't mean we should be obsessed with shit. From now on Shitism is my faith "Holy shit, I bow in front of you." No, no, no. We shouldn't be obsessed with simplicity or stupidity as such obsession would be the very opposite of what I am trying to say. We should be so stupid that we don't even know how stupid we are. We should know so little about Buddhism that we can live freely without being stuck or upset by Buddhism. At the same time, we should not abandon Buddhism either, because it was Buddha who told us about the importance of our stupid everyday life. We should try to remember that stupidity is important, but even complex Buddhist philosophy may help people find the meaning and importance of total stupidity.