Sunday, August 2, 2009

Not Cherishing Opinions

Jianzhi Sengcan, the third Chinese Chan Master (died 606), may or may not have authored the dharma poem Hsin Hsin Ming. Most of what is known about him is from The Transmission of the Lamp, a document whose historical contents are questioned by scholars, and which was compiled several centuries after Sengcan's death. I love a good mystery, and also believe it's not essential that we know for sure if he wrote the poem or not. Just as it's not essential that we know for sure whether the teacher lineages presented to us as historical records of the transmission of the dharma are entirely accurate or not. I say this as someone with a deep interest in history, and learning from what has happened in the past, but also as someone who knows that every "history" is partial, and always a fiction in some way.

Our zen community is going to study the Hsin Hsin Ming this fall, and this morning's talk was an introduction to the text. I had never heard of it before, but I have seen some of the lines in it before. For example, the first line: "The way is not difficult for those without preferences." It's also been translated as "The way is not difficult for those who do not pick and choose." No preferences? Seems pretty damn impossible, doesn't it. Or maybe even foolish. But I think it's more about accepting what is given in the moment, working with what is there instead of wanting something else.

I would like to address another line that was talked about in this morning's talk.

"Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions."

Sounds pretty smart, doesn't it? Or maybe a bit foolish again. The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the words "cease to cherish opinions" is an unflappable, but completely dispassionate monk or nun. Nothing gets to them. They're always calm and cool, which is precisely why I'm not enamored by them. Sometimes, a bit of passion is called for. Some free flowing "I give a shit about x" energy. Think of big social movements. How some grounded, but passionate leader or group of leaders shift the way thousands and hundreds of thousands of people think. Martin Luther King Jr., and all those in his inner circle, were good examples. Without that passionate energy, it's hard to imagine the shifting that happened. And the history of zen is filled with examples of teachers and students doing dramatic things at the precise moment it was called for and everything shifted.

So, either I disagree with this line from the Hsin Hsin Ming, or the view I have presented above is a wrong view. I think the latter is probably more accurate.

Yet, when I reflect on the word cherish, immediately words like "love" and "hold" rise up beside it. So, how can we cease loving our opinions and also still have them and function in the world? I really believe this is what the line in the poem is calling us to do. Not to simply let go of everything and be a doormat in the world; there's enough of that in the world already.

p.s. If you click on the photo above, you'll see an example of a strongly held opinion that I discovered on one of my alley excursions.


ZenDotStudio said...

ah Nathan, always you give us something to chew on. I agree that sometimes I have met monks that seem so almost "not there" that you can't connect with them. And then there are others that are so warm and filled with humanity and personality. In my mind it is each monk's interpretation and expression of "monkishness".

I know these lines you speak of and I wonder if it's a translation thing. I have always taken the cherishing in this instance to mean "attachment" as in, I can hear it in my own voice when I am in conversation with someone who disagrees with me. I can hear the slightly, strident, cherishing of my own opinion. It negates my openness. I am clinging to what I believe to be true and am not fully open to hear another point of view. So perhaps it is simply saying to us we don't have to search for the truth only to be open to it and we will perceive it.

Bows for this wonderful taste of the Dharma.

Kyle said...

Great post. That's the trick, isn't it, to live in this relative world in an engaging way, but also never forget the absolute truth. We must not be a doormat, but at the same time remember the impermanence of all things.