"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

September 26, 2011

The Middle Way: The Opposite of a Profound Truth May be Another Profound Truth

In the Zen tradition, there is famous story about how the Sixth Patriarch was chosen by way of a kind of competition by a poem, or gatha. One day the Fifth Patriarch asked him monks to express their insight in a poem. The senior disciple, the highly educated Yuquan Shenxiu, offered this gatha:
The body is the bodhi tree.
The mind is a great bright mirror.
Every day you have to wipe it clean
so that the dust will not cover the mirror.
Huineng, an illiterate peasant, who came to study with the Fifth Patriarch, asked one of his dharma brothers to write out this poem for him:
There's no such thing as the bodhi tree.
There's not such thing as the great bright mirror.
From the beginning everything is empty.
Where can the dust cling?
As legend and tradition has it, on the basis of this poem, the illiterate Huineng was chosen as the Sixth Patriarch.  Later, Shenxiu established the so-called "Northern School and Zen eventually split into the "gradualist" and "sudden" enlightenment schools.

Consider these two gathas. Which would you have chosen? Why?

Is one the second poem better or more insightful or more profound? Why? In practice, does one really have to choose one or the other as "correct" or "the only way?" What do you think?

Maybe if this profound insight of quantum physics founder Niels Bohr had been understood by these ancient worthies, Zen might not have fallen into schism and warring schools:
“The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth. The poles of a paradox are like the poles of a battery: hold the together and they generate the energy of life; pull them apart, and the current stops flowing.  When we separate any of the profound paired truths of our lives, both poles become lifeless spectres of themselves — and we become lifeless too.”  Niels Bohr
My understanding of the the Buddha's "middle way" is that one seeks to avoid getting caught up in "views, including views like those in these two gathas.  I've found that if one looks deeply into practice, both views can be skillful and enlightening—"the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth."  Surely the point is to not get stuck in either view, but to find the skill in both!
For more in-depth dharma articles and instruction, visit:  METTA REFUGE
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