Case 32 A Non-Buddhist Philosopher Questions the Buddha
A non-Buddhist philosopher said to the Buddha, "I do not ask for words; I don not ask for non-words."。
The Buddha just sat there.
The philosopher said admiringly, "The World-honored One, with his great mercy, has blown away the clouds of my illusion and enabled me to enter the Way."
And after making bows, he took his leave.
Then Ananda asked the Buddha, "What did he realize, to admire you so much?"
The World-honored One replied, "A fine horse runs even at the shadow of the whip."
Ananda was the Buddha's disciple, but his understanding was not equal to that of the non-Buddhist. I want to ask you, what difference is there between the Buddha's disciple and the non-Buddhist?
On the edge of a sword,
Over the ridge of an iceberg,
With no steps, no ladders,
Climbing the cliffs without hands.
I was once in sanzen (formal interview) with Harada and he asked me a question. I couldn't think of anything to say so I just sat there silently doing zazen. I could tell that the translator was waiting for an answer and was even a little surprised when Harada didn't press me for an answer. I had a little glimmer of embarrassment but I also had a little glimmer that silence was a good answer to the question. They were just glimmers of thought because the meditation was pretty silent. Another time during sesshin the bell rang for lunch, from zazen, we all grabbed our food bowls jumped up and marched to the eating hall. Then in the eating hall everybody puts their food bowls on the table and I put down a tea cup. I couldn't help it, I just broke into laughter. Just the other day timing zazen here at the Moonwater Dojo I looked down at the clock but nothing happened in my head so the 30 minute period turned into a 45 minute period. Many zen teachers are notoriously spacey. I have heard that Suzuki Roshi, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, was often late to events. He would get on a bus or a subway do zazen and miss his stop. If one sits really well, deep in samadhi, then the discriminating mind shuts down, that part of our mind which is always judging and calculating stops functioning. This is not just spacing out from being lost in thought, this is spacing out from there being no thought. This is something special because when this happens you will not be unconscious but instead will feel totally awake, filled with a special energy, and deeply concentrated, and clear eyed, but most importantly there will be awareness of this One Life of which is our True Self. But also when we step out of a deep meditative state we find our discriminating faculties renewed and clear and we find ourselves better able to deal with the responsibilities of normal life. At first it might be a bit difficult to transition between these two states of mind but in time with practice the transition between becomes almost seamless. The Buddha was silent to the philosopher but easily and perceptively responded to Ananda.
Also the Philosopher was very perceptive and seemed to very quickly understand the depth of the Buddha's teachings. It is very rare but sometimes a person experiences kensho at their first sesshin. I have heard this happening once to a Catholic Priest. We might say that this is the result of exceptionally good karma. Yes some people seem to have better karma then others but usually there is a background of some sort of practice. Years in training as a Catholic Priest may not be so different from training in a Zen Monastery. The questioning and concentration of the philosophers quest might also provide a good background for insight into the Buddha's teachings. Even Hui Neng the 6th Patriarch who experienced kensho upon first hearing the Diamond Sutra probably developed clarity of mind and a sort of meditative focus in his profession as a wood cutter. Anything we do as long as we do it fully with body and mind can become a meditative practice. Remember what the Buddha said upon his own enlightenment, "All beings regardless have this same clear bright mind that I have just awakened to."
That being said some individuals just seem to be born with greater clarity of mind then others and personality that lends itself to the spiritual quest more then others. There is a traditional metaphor of the three horses that is referenced in this koan. There is the horse that you have to give a good whipping to get it to do what you want. There is the horse that responds to the first touch of the whip and there is the horse that responds to just the shadow of the whip. The different horses represent the differences in our natural abilities. Suzuki Roshi who goes on at length about this metaphor in his book Zen Mind Beginners Mind seems to think that the best Zen student is the one with the least natural talents because the extra effort put into training will ultimately make him/her the greater Zen Master. I think this metaphor is not very instructive. It might promote a discriminating mind set that is not helpful. Success in our practice results from a wide variety of factors some of which we are born with and some that come from our experience. It is impossible to put our finger on all these factors. The range of these factors is as wide as the Universe. When enlightenment happens it is the grace of the Universe that the individual experiences. It is not a miracle but we also we cannot pin down all the causes.
So what can an individual do to promote this experience? We go right back to Buddha's Eightfold Path and lots of hard work and faith that the hard work will lead you along the path. What more can you do? O yes find a good teacher.