Friday, November 24, 2006

Zen and man's two natures


This line of ponderings arose as a result of a discussion I had with my wife Neal about a reading of Mme. de Salzmann's in which she stated that man has two natures- an animal, and an angel.

Many people are familiar with the two famous Zen koans:

Does a dog have Buddha nature?
and
What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Now, it's widely presumed that koans have no answers. However we already know that that presumption is false, because answers are, essentially, responses (check the dictionary on this one, you'll see that's one of the primary definitions of the word answer), and it's definitely clear that there can be responses to koans.

Over and over again in Zen, we see it's the immediate quality of the responses that matter. The logical intellectual content is apparently secondary. So koans do have "answers," although perhaps not necessarily in the way that we usually expect an answer to be understood.

Perhaps- just perhaps- these two koans both point to the issue of man's two natures?

In the first one, we see a redundant question. Why is it redundant?
Because according to both dogma and technical understanding in Buddhism, it's already understood by default that all of reality has Buddha nature. Buddha nature penetrates all matter because the state of is-ness itself is Buddha nature. So the question is rhetorical right up front. The answer is so obvious there is no need to ask it. This points to a suggestion: the question is not at all what it appears to be!

So, I asked myself- what if the Koan were about man, not about a dog? We are all "dogs-" that is, we have an animal nature that is not in relationship with our higher nature.

When we ask the question "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" we see that the answer can be either yes or no, depending on whether or not a man has formed within himself a relationship to his higher nature.

So there is an avenue to understanding this koan which seems perhaps unconventional until one considers its relationship to Mme De Salzmann's words.

That insight got me pondering koan number two. I asked myself- perhaps the second koan has the same intentionally allegorical direction in it? It, too, poses an apparent conundrum: What the heck IS the sound of one hand clapping, anyway?

Silence.

Well-- I pondered-- one hand cannot clap, so this koan, like the other one, must be pointing to something other than hands and clapping, yes? Or so I reasoned.

Maybe the one hand represents man's animal nature?Then I realized- TWO hands CAN clap. That is, no "objective result"- sound - can arise from the action of one hand (one nature.) It is only if there are two natures in relationship that an answer can be obtained. When the Zen student "responds" to the koan it is the quality of the response that determines the master's acceptance. If it can be seen that the responses arises from an immediate relationship between the two natures, the response is valid- no matter what it is.

So like those of us in the work, the aim of the Zen practitioner is to form an inner bridge between his natures.

One other note- even if there is a higher nature present, without the lower, there is only one hand-- so-- no clapping.

Seems as though God's applause is reserved not for the angels alone, or the animals, but rather for their reunions.

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