Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meifumado Ni Ochin

In Tang Dynasty Zen, onward to Japanese Zen (fusing with Shinto), Enlightenment is primordial. It is one's original essence, or nature. In fact, Enlightenment is the essence-nature of all of what goes by the name Nature. Thus, one does not have to "transcend" the ordinary world, and in particular one need not go to become a monk in a remote mountain monastery in order to fully realize this Essence.

This makes for an interesting deepening of the "religious" idea of Nirvana propounded by the Mahayana sects -- that making a bowl of tea or practicing with a wooden sword can be, and is, absolutely as "enlightened" and "enlightening" as chanting sutras, banging a gong, or bowing to Buddha statues in an incense-thick temple. Nirvana is right here now.

What makes an activity "Zen" and "nirvanic" or not has nothing to do with the external form or name, but with whether one is in clinging-mind or in "empty mind."

The early Buddhist forest monks practiced a mental discipline of being directly and brilliantly aware of the body and surroundings at all times before and beyond any thinking. Sometimes this is translated "mindfulness." But it is also Mushin, or "empty mind."

Japanese swordsmen also developed this empty mind training. One of their techniques was Mokuso, a form of sitting meditation done before sword practice.

Conscious mind stirred up by thoughts gives birth to an "ego" sense that experiences fear. In Japanese Zen, fear can only be conquered within the mind, and this is done by "stilling thoughts" in order to strip away egotism and see what is brilliantly here-now.

In Mokuso, as breathing deepens and becomes steady, thinking ends, yet consciousness or awareness does not. The result is an inconceivable state in which the senses regains original purity and a clean and direct cognition becomes possible.

For Japanese swordsmen, the test of direct cognition was a simple one: if (whether in practice or actual battle) one could parry or evade an attack and make a "hit" on one's enemy without any thinking or any hesitation or any consciously formed "intention" of doing so, one had attained the "empty mind,"  Muga Mushin.

Thus, "Enlightenment" was not something to be attained in another lifetime, or at the end of a long and strenuous religious practice segregated from society, but right here and now in the midst of the dust and noise. What's more, this enlightenment wasn't a remote matter of faith supported by doctrine or ritual but was experiential, direct and real.

Thus, there is a Japanese saying that the "do" (way) is not found in the realm of enlightenment, but in the hell-realms. One finds the true self by "falling into the pit of hell" (meifumado ni ochin).  To study Zen is to go cheerfully to hell.

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