Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The impossibility of studying Zen

It is impossible to form an intellectual appreciation of Zen. That was as in Jung's commentary to Zen master Suzuki's book of Zen Buddhism. The question is: Why Suzuki wrote the book and "worse yet" accepted Jung's commentary to be read before his English translation? A possible answer is: that was exactly the message the Suzuki trying to convey! In all honesty, I have not read Suzuki's book, except Jung's commentary. But I did read the Platform Sutra (壇經) of Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng (六祖惠能). And to my surprise, I did find similar message being conveyed there!

In the Platform Sutra, there were an episode whereby Hui Neng conveyed this message to his new student: the talented and highly knowledgeable teen-age monk Shen Hui 神會. It was like this:

The master hit the teen-age monk's head three time with a cane. And asked him: Pain or No pain? In all wittiness, the young monk challenged back with this reply: Pain and no pain (in typical Zen riddle manner!).

Nobel Laureate Kao XingJian interpreted it, in his play August Snow (a historical-cum-religious drama on the life of Hui Neng based on the Platform Sutra), as "I feel pain, but your cane feels no pain".

In the Sutra, the master didn't give an opportunity for the young monk to answer. The master said (I'm paraphrasing), "If you feel pain, you're human and will bear a grudge, and therefore you're not enlightened. And if you don't feel pain, you're are as cold as a piece of rock, and you can't be enlightened!"

Never mind if you don't get it. Because after all through language the master can only tell what is NOT Zen rather than what it is!

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