Not-All the Above

Here's the problem with Buddhists: We make stuff up. Not that everybody else doesn't make stuff up, but we make some special stuff up. We hear about the Buddha, how “Buddha” means the awakened one, and we immediately jump to making opposites. “If the Buddha is enlightened, that makes him special, and I'm not so special, therefore I am unenlightened.” So we make “enlightened” into the opposite of “unenlightened.” We hear about the Two Truths--“Relative” and the “Absolute,” and we immediately think of them as different. Bodhidharma says “it's” beyond words, we immediately start talking and writing about “it.” (The irony is not lost on me). We hear about mind-to-mind transmission, we start thinking there are two different “minds,” that there's something to be transmitted, and that there's any transmission to be done, and somebody to do the transmitting.

I'll paraphrase from one version or another (or maybe more) of the “Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch:

Huineng addresses the monks, “I have an article that has no head, no name nor appellation, no front and no back. Do any of you know it?
Shenhui steps out from the crowd, quite pleased with himself no doubt, and says, “It is the source of all Buddhas, and the Buddha-Nature of Shenhui.”
Huineng retorts with, “I have already told you it has no name, and yet you call it 'source of all buddhas and 'Buddha-Nature.' Even if you confine yourself to a mat-shed (meditation room) for further study, you will be a meditation master of second-hand knowledge only,” i.e. no intuitive wisdom, just book-learning. Lots of knowledge, not necessarily any wisdom. (not to create opposites again).

Shenhui is clearly incorrect, but is Huineng correct? He actually explains it a little further, and that removes him from the gates of hell.

“One walking the Great Way should do away with all thoughts good as well as evil ones (opposites). It is merely an expedient, that the 'essence of Mind' is called that; it cannot be named by any name. This non-dual nature is called True Nature, upon which all systems of the teaching are based. One should realize the 'essence of mind' as soon as one hears of it.”

Also in the Sutra:

Nanyue Huairang comes to Huineng's temple. Huineng asks him, Where did you come from?”
Nanyue says, “From Mt. Song.”
Huineng asks, “What is it that comes?”
Nanyue has no answer. Eight years later, Nanyue speaks to Huineng.
Nanyue says to him, “Master, I have an understanding.”
Huineng asks, “What is it?”
Nanyue's answer, “To say it's a thing misses the mark.”

If I pick up a bottle of water, do you know what my experience is—not from an intellectual level, but personally, right here&now? Is it warm, is it cold? Is it sweet or salty? Is it water or some other clear liquid? ZM Seung Sahn tells us that when we taste something, just taste. When we hear something, just hear. Leave out the nouns, use only verbs. No “thing” to be tasted, no “thing” to do the tasting, there is only, “Yum.”

A recent sign you might see around is, “If you see something, say something.” That just points us to when see something, we name it, assign form to it, decide where “it” ends and everything else begins—that “Universe + 1” tendency. As soon as we perceive something instead of just experiencing it, and we give it a name, we decide what its form is, we enter the realm of conception. And the world of conception puts (at least) one layer between us and the Great Way. (Of course, you could say that there is no Way, and that putting layers between us and it is just more dualism, and trying to define “it.” And you wouldn't be wrong, but as Huineng points out, it's an expedient. Throw it away as soon an you've stopped reading this sentence. Gone? Good.)

I lean toward being one of the 8-crayon box guys, my partner is somewhere north of 128. A myriad of things are called “red” by me, she has all kinds of gradations, shades, mixtures of other colors to make what I call “red.” She'll have a name for the color I've never even heard. I can listen to music, and tell whether it's minor key or major key, what instruments there are playing the song. I see what to me is “red,” I say red. She hears music, she says, “music.” That's almost ZM Seung Sahn's “red comes, reflect red,” although in his case, the word “red” wouldn't be involved.

Is one right, one wrong? Are both or neither correct perceptions, given that we do perceive, and regardless of our perceptions being empty? If you say, “None of the above,” you are attached to emptiness. If you say “All the above” you are attached to form. Which is right?

However...all dharmas are buddhadharmas. “Yum” is as valid as, “I think this thing I'm tasting is quite yummy.” “Red” is as valid as “brick-red.” “Minor key 12-bar blues” is as valid as “music.” When we detach even from non-attachment, when it's not-one, not-two, and when we experience both “All the Above” and “None of the above,” and neither “All the Above” and “None of the Above,” we are Buddha. When we try to separate delusion from wisdom, it misses the mark. So far as reality goes, both exist. And simultaneously, they don't exist.

So I ask you, “Is it None of the above or all the above?” Both? Neither? Both and neither? Neither both, nor neither neither? Answer quickly! But maybe without opening your mouth or writing to do so.

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