Wednesday, December 26, 2007

confusion, inside and out


Crabs: hard on the outside, sweet on the inside. In Shanghai at this time of year, the freshwater crab is the seasonal delicacy.

This morning I came across this quote from Hui Neng's Platform Sutra (Red Pine's translation, as published by Shoemaker and Hoard, p. 37.)

"When a person's mind has no thoughts and is fundamentally empty and still and free of false views, this is the greatest of all causes -- which occurs when you aren't confused about the inside or the outside, when you are free of dualities. If you're confused about the outside, you're attached to forms. If you are confused about the inside, you're attached to emptiness. To be free of form amid forms and to be free of emptiness amid emptiness, this is when you aren't confused about the inside or the outside."

In pursuing this question of inwardness and outwardness, it's pretty clear that for the most part we live outwardly. We experience life through the five senses and are convinced that this is the only truth. If there is anything in us that needs to be changed, we must acquire the change from the outward part of life, through the five senses, through what we eat, or words, or yoga or tai chi practice, or breathing exercises, and so on. We seek to acquire through form, which is, of course, a form of desire.

Eventually, if we work diligently enough, especially at meditation, it will began to dawn on us that there is an inward life. We'll also see that inwardness can change us, much more radically than outwardness can. Then we begin to seek to acquire through emptiness, which almost immediately becomes the very "spiritual materialism" Chogyam Trungpa warned against.

What interests me about this Buddhist quote -- and about Hui Neng and Dogen in general--is that they repeatedly emphasize that inwardness is not everything either. It's not the solution... but it can actually become part of the problem.

Inwardness is incredibly convincing--the same as outwardness, maybe even more so--and once we first discover it, the temptation is to abandon outwardness in the interests of penetrating the inner. The miraculous nature of our inner being is just as much of an allurement as the outward senses of life. Just like ordinary life, it's a place to get lost.

The need, then, is to learn to inhabit the intersection between these two sets of sensory possibilities, inward sensation and outward sensation.

Hui Neng points us towards an interesting possibility: to be free of form amid forms suggests living within form, within outwardness--with awareness--but not being identified with it; and to be free of emptiness amid emptiness would be to live within emptiness, within inwardness--also with awareness--but equally without identification. So he posits a state in which we inhabit the juncture between the inwardness and the outwardness: in other words, true consciousness functions as a bridge between two worlds.

We should be careful, in our work, not to invoke the elitism of silence, which appears to be deep, but ultimately promotes duality by overemphasizing the inner. Of course, we ought to avoid any elitism at all, if possible, but this is probably too high a practice for us to fully understand.

Hui Neng also comments thusly:

"In speaking with others, remain free of appearances when you explore appearances, and remain free of emptiness when you enter into emptiness. If you become attached to emptiness, you will only increase your ignorance. And if you become attached to appearances, you will only increase your delusions.
And you slander the Dharma if you simply tell people not to use words. If you tell them not to use words, then people shouldn't use language. Language is words. You can say their nature is empty, but the nature of truth is not empty. The deluded only confuse themselves when they get rid of language." (Platform Sutra, p. 42.)

So what interests me right now is the juncture between inwardness and outwardness, occupied by Being, with an active understanding of the immediate existence of both aspects.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.

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