There was a recent discussion/debate on one of the Buddhist LJ communities surrounding the blog of a Shingon priest that is here on LJ. Rather than exacerbate the contentious state of affairs in that community, I just wanted to write some notes of my view on what constitutes pretention, especially from a Buddhist standpoint. This is what I imagine a Buddhist would say when asked to define pretention or arrogance.
- holding fast to a fixed idea of how the world/life is. Having to be 'right' instead of 'wrong'; arguing with others to uphold the trait of being 'right' instead of being 'wrong'.
- believing strongly in the real existence of one's self as an immutable core, rather than recognizing the inherent changing of the experience of what we normally call the 'self' and the ultimate equality of all beings; the impossibility of pinning it down at all, since 'it' is not substantial.
- acting/speaking in such a way as to foster the felt divide between one's 'self' and another 'self''. Both of which are imagined constructs we use for our everyday purposes, but which have no more substance than that which we ascribe to them.
- accepting as real and indicative of the status of one's 'self' the nominal 'honors' placed upon it by priests or 'masters'; in the Buddhist world, this is all too common. Robes and Japanese names, certificates and so forth.....all just empty distinctions based on a complex structure of meaning and perception in the temporal realm.
- using the acquisition of such honorific status to enshrine one's 'self' as this or that in the world, as an 'Authority'. As T'ang dynasty Zen master Huang Po once said, "There is no Zen teacher."
- defending one's honorific status by engaging in and provoking pointless semantic debates; once again, having to be 'right' vs. 'wrong', yet another empty distinction.
For Zen, truth is a mere concept, and yet the Zen Masters point to Truth, i.e. that which resolves all doubts. In this structure, all things that pass through the mind, all writings and speeches, are mere words, are things that have no real substance. But, they are used to point out the Truth, which again, is provisionally named, and which resolves all doubts as to the nature of reality, life, the world, etc. So, the Zennist does not seek truth, but only attempts to become more in tune with her experience. At least, that is the 'story of Zen practice' handed down by teachers of various ilk.
My own experience of Zen practice has been quite different. No matter how much I may try to 'fit the mold' proffered in books and magazine articles and speeches and so forth, the actual experience has been much much different. As I have worked in zazen, both on the cushion and off, my mind has slowly become more solid, less likely to float away with each passing thought. There has been no breakthrough or Enlightenment, despite my earlier efforts to convince myself and others that there had. I seem to ebb and flow with enthusiasm for Zen: one week, I am 'in the zone', the next, it is hard work just to think of Zen. This pattern of oscillation has been going on for a long time now. The Enlightenment of Buddha must be something wholly other, an experience of experience itself, and not something that can be thought of, explained, figured out, anticipated, etc. I only write this because I feel as if the other avenues have been exhausted. But even this is not enough. I read Zen writings now and hardly recognize them. For really, when you read it, it makes you look at yourself. And one cannot see oneself truly, the eye cannot see itself, so to speak. Given the idea of ideal practice, it is all too easy to recall that to mind, and make it a suit one wears, fooling oneself over and over. There must be another way.
The mind wants to settle for something fixed, and unchanging. It wants a rock in the stream to lie on and sun itself. It wants an end to change, or rather, it wants itself to be fixed, and therefore able more capably to comment on the world. Most of all, this mind wants to be separated from everything else. The utter illusion of separation is intellectually clear; the reality of the tight grip this notion has on me is obvious. There are 'skillful means' that can help loosen the hold, but only a leap will eradicate the bond. It is a leap that is needed, to another wholly different way of seeing.
Seeing too that writing all of this is wanting to settle things, this reliance on words, on the logic of grammar and the convenience of vocabulary. When all this is is one experience, not divided. Enumerating and ruminating on what I perceive as subtleties of my mind; this gets me nowhere in the work of Zen. For all of this is words talking to other words about words. I cannot even seem to write about anything else. Because, finally, there IS nothing else. The root of experience, of life, and I can't see it.
Underneath the rampant activity of the dualistic mind, all the judgements and wishes, thoughts, dreams, etc, life is actualized. Or at least I imagine it must be underneath all of that, for it is nowhere else in all that I perceive. But how to directly go there?Just hold to one thing.
Looking into the arising of the waves, can we see the water? Are the two distinguishable? Looking into the water, will we miss the waves? Are the two the same? The experience of wave is itself water, is itself the ocean great and round. The jeweled palace is itself the water, expressed in so many wondrous facets.