Case 36 When You Meet a Man of the Way
Goso said, "When you meet a man of the Way on the path, do not meet him with words or in silence. Tell me, how will you meet him?"
In such a case, if you can manage an intimate meeting with him it will certainly be gratifying.
But if you cannot, you must be watchful in every way.
Meeting a man of the Way on the road,
Meet him with neither words nor silence.
A punch on the jaw:
Understand, if you can directly understand.
This is not a koan about deep zazen or clarifying understanding. It is a question about freedom. It is a tests of the student's freedom. By now the student is not just a student if he/she has gotten through the previous 35 koans. There is a line in the Heart Sutra:
The Bodhisattvas depend on Prajna Paramita and their minds are no hindrance. Without any hindrance, no fears exist. Far apart from every deluded view they dwell in Nirvana.
Almost all of us carry at least a little bit of fear with us. It is called self consciousness. We want to live up to some idea we have of ourselves, we want to fit in, we want to impress, and so on. We carry around this self consciousness and it binds us and doesn't allow us to freely act and express our True Nature, our chi.
We Buddhists are suppose to believe that all humans in our deeper selves are essentially good. The Buddha upon his enlightenment is suppose to have said that all beings have this same clear bright mind and wisdom that I have just awoken to. This is our faith. Of course most of us don't seem to have a clear bright mind and are filled with confusion and selfish desire. But then we practice and dispell some of that confusion and our deeper bright mind begins to shine. When that bright mind shines we act with our natural goodness and become bodhisattvas not out of intention but naturally. This bright mind is the mind of prajna (wisdom). It is that quiet mind that I write so much about in this blog. It is that mind which naturally is without duality. It is the mind that naturally experiences the world with joy and intimacy.
There is a classic Buddhist teaching that comes from The Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva. It goes like this. We may have a deep desire to make the world a better place, but it seems like such a huge intractable problem. Metaphorically we might want to cover the whole world in soft leather so that we are without pain in our journey through life though we know that this is impossible. But there is something we can do, we can cover our own feet with soft leather. It is not easy to figure out how to make shoes that fit and are comfortable and stay on but the Buddha and many other teachers have showed us how. And then when we have finally put soft comfortable shoes on our feet we can show others how to make shoes. This is what it is to be a Bodhisattva. This is the way of Buddhism. In other words Buddhism is about personal transformation. Of course Buddhism asks us to do the right thing but more important then just doing the right thing is that personal transformation that exposes our goodness and allows to do the right thing naturally.
All religions ask us to do the right thing but what one religion considers the right thing another religion may not. This is because each religion sets up a moral system based upon a specific moral code and other beliefs some of which are unique to each religion. Unlike Buddhism these religions are not based upon the inherent goodness of the individual. Christianity is very specific in it's belief in the inherent sinfulness of the individual. With this belief it becomes a personal battle to do good. Buddhism is quite different because it is based on the Buddha's discovery (not a revelation from a divine source) of our natural goodness. And while the idea of personal transformation may seem individualistic and selfish it is not because doing the right thing is never individualistic and selfish. In the larger sense of trying to create a better world Buddhism and the way of the Bodhisattva is about creating a culture of personal transformation. This is the Mahayana the large raft which brings all humanity to liberation, but it doesn't matter whether you practice in the Mahayana or Theravada or other meditative tradition it is the culture of personal transformation uncovering our inherent goodness that is important.
I have been reading a bunch on the psychology of morality and personality recently (Jonathan Haidt and others). What strikes me is the wide variety of personalities and the tendency that these various personalities will develop certain moral structures. This wide range of personalities include those who are ego driven and those who are selfless, those who are honest and those who are dishonest, those who are rational and those who are emotional, those who think of morality in terms of social order, hierarchy, loyalty, as well as harm and suffering. The argument from these psychologists is that a large component of personality and morality is evolutionary and biologically determined. A natural conclusion from reading these authors is that who we are in terms of personality to a large extent is fixed. And we can see how the range of human personality can cause conflict and suffering.
Of course our ancient ancestors did not think in terms of evolution or biologic determinism. They came up with such ideas as the soul and karma. And they anthropomorphize the forces of nature and believed in gods and then the one God. And they developed societies based on order and belief which to some extent put a check on conflict and suffering.
But now how do we reconcile what is thought to be biologically and evolutionarily determined with the Buddhist faith in our inherent goodness? My own experience, through the power of meditation, is that personality is a lot less fixed then then one might think. If we examine the issue we can see that personality is how we think feel and react to our environment. It is a nexus of thought and emotion. Our ancestors noticed that much of personality seemed to be in place even when the human is very young. This was thought to be the result of karma acquired in our past lives. Sometimes in the Zen world we call this Beginningless Karma which it truly is because it is the result of our whole evolutionary history going back to the beginning of life and by extension through cause and effect to the beginningless beginning of time. And yet this nexus of thought and emotion is not who we are at the core. I know this because through the practice of meditation I have learned to turn off the constant river of thought and emotion that runs through each of our minds. And what I have found is exactly what the Buddha found. At the core if we strip away the pervasive clouds of thought and emotions we will experience the world with a loving intimacy and an intuitive understanding of our intrinsic oneness with the whole Universe. So when you meet a man of the way or anyone for that matter can you meet him/her with this loving intimacy of your deepest mind?