June 25, 2020

Where can we buy the Moon?

We know that Buddha, after attaining the truth, said that with him all beings and things attained the truth. In other words, he realized that the truth is universal and nobody can say that they, individually, possess the truth, or know the truth. Buddha discovered the truth which is right here and everywhere you go whenever you go. That's why it is so awkward to call this truth Buddhist or Buddha's or enlightenment, if this truth is really absolutely independent on people, or specific religions. We say Buddhism as if there was some kind of specific Buddhist truth that is different from Christian truth or sports truth or meteorological truth. But although the truth is clearly universal and independent on people's opinions and philosophies, we need a language, a Christian language, or Buddhist language or mathematical language to communicate what the truth is so we can maintain the heritage of authentic recognition of the truth, which is impossible without a suitable linguistic system.

Although the truth is universal and everyone's inherent experience, that doesn't mean that everyone can recognize this universal truth. So we definitely need the right tools to find the truth and maintain this experience. Buddhism has its suitable language and tools, Christianity has its suitable language and tools, science has its language and tools.  But languages and tools are only the link between us and the truth. If a religion is a tool, be it, but it can never, the tool, become the truth, as much as a knife cannot become meat and a spoon cannot become soup. If we are warned about religious intoxication, it is a warning not to eat knives and spoons. And we should definitely not replace our experience of the truth with intellectual discussions that only lead to intellectual conclusions. So which is more authentic - to define the truth or pass the spoons? To define mathematics or solve a mathematical problem?  When we speak about buddhas, we have to be careful as not to invent ideas that have nothing to do with our actual experience. Our experience of buddhas is incredibly valuable, but this experience can be easily corrupted with our intellectual discussions about it. That's why intellectual discussions are not encouraged during sesshins, whereas physical work is.

A few days ago I went to a talk given by a Theravada teacher. Someone in the audience mentioned "the truth". The teacher raised his eyebrows and said: "Did you say truth? Isn't that exactly the word that causes wars and bloodshed? Please, don't use that word!"  Of course, the teacher warned the audience that the term truth may be understood very differently by different groups of people and cause hatred and violence. But in our tradition, we are pretty bold and we hope that if we clearly explain that the truth is really nobody's possession and is absolutely universal, then there is no need to argue whose truth is better. Buddha's truth is really beyond mine and yours, ours and theirs, it is not only Buddha's truth, it is the truth we know already. That is the point Buddha needed to clarify. To clarify the difference between his question "What is the truth?" and his actual experience, which is really everybody's original experience. 

We should realize that we are civilized and spiritual beings. By spiritual I mean someone who has realized that there is more depth to life than money, sex and social status, so our spiritual experience means that we have already transcended the level of insects, birds and cows, so we should act accordingly. That means - do not ruin your spiritual experience by making it your private possession.  If your spiritual experience is authentic, then you can see it all around,  and in others, too. This sky, this sun, is it yours or is it ours? If it is ours, nobody can say that they possess the sun. The whole of  Japanese Zen poetry is about observing nature, or noticing one's sadness and loneliness, or one's joy because the water is fresh and the spring has come. There is no need for fame or profit if you are really intimate with nature.

Master Dogen's teaching about fame and profit is beautifully expressed in the very poems of wandering Zen monks. Although they had hardly any money, and nothing to boast, they indeed had much closer relationship with the moon and the stars than the wealthy and successful. Having forgotten their past spiritual experience, the wandering monks enjoyed playing with grass and frogs.

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