How bright and clear the perfect moonlight of the Four-fold Wisdom!
At this moment what more need we seek?
As the eternal tranquility of Truth reveals itself to us, this very place is
the Land of Lotuses and this very body is the body of the Buddha.
Sitting in samadhi. Our mind, a clear blue sky. Nothing obstructing our vision. A thought appears, a little puff of cloud that quickly passes. Tranquility so deep that discrimination stops and becomes equanimity. Everything just as it is, nothing added nothing subtracted. At the same time, everything beautiful, everything perfect. But also everything empty, everything One. Nothing more, svaha.
I have tried to look up the Four-fold Wisdom on the internet and not found anything.
Harada's comentary on the Song of Zazen also doesn't spell out what the four wisdoms are.
One day I was in sanzen with Harada Roshi and he starts talking about the Four-fold Wisdom. He tells me that I have become skilled at Absolute Samadhi, the type of samadhi in which thought stops, discrimination ends, and even memory is shut down, so that in retrospect this samadhi is black. We only know we have been in Absolute Samadhi because the sitting period goes by so quickly and we can't even remember having thoughts or dreams, yet some how it changes us and we emerge absolutely clear and awake. Harada tells me that this dark samadhi is the first wisdom and he wants me to show him that I am skilled in the other three wisdoms. I think he was just needling me so that I will put effort into the sesshin. So what are the four wisdoms?
This first wisdom is the wisdom of Emptiness. This is the wisdom where nothing exists including the self, especially the self. This is the wisdom of the Heart Sutra. This wisdom realized in the experience of Absolute Samadh is the foundation wisdom from which all the rest of the wisdom that Zen and Buddhism has to offer derives. Often, for a time, practitioners get stuck with this wisdom. They don't move on and are caught in a sort of nihilism where nothing has any meaning or importance. They just want to continue to sit in Emptiness. It is quite blissful, but eventually life or a good teacher pulls them out.
With a little growth in insight the Wisdom of Emptiness transforms into the Wisdom of Oneness. This wisdom is found not in the dark of Absolute Samadhi but in the clear bright samadhi that emerges after we pass through Absolute Samadhi. We have to let our intellegence work and recognize how the world emerges after all discrimination stops. My recognition of Oneness has taken many forms. Many years ago I was sitting a sesshin deep in zazen listening to the birds make their early morning calls. With one particularly loud call I disappeared, went into a dark samadhi that lasted only a moment. When I came out of that samadhi it struck me that for that moment I had completely become that sound, that I could no longer identify an I that was separate from that sound. This might seem a small and limited insight about a temporary phenomena but I understood it to be a much more important insight into the fundamental nature of things. Without a conception of an individual "I" the conceptual boundaries between perceptions breaks down. Sitting there with a quiet mind I stopped looking through space at the various things of this world but started to see space as having a sort of substance and seeing things as embedded within space. I understood that to see space as dividing one thing from another is not quite correct and that a better understanding is that space is the medium of connection, or maybe better said is that space is the connection between apparently separate things. In a certain way I was seeing everything as a single entity, as one thing.
I remember that a couple weeks later, after I had returned home and had reentered my "normal life" and my normally active mind this vision of the world was gone but the experience was working on me in other ways. My conception of my self had changed. I understood that the greater truth was that I was not a separate individual but a small part of the larger Universe and I had started to identify myself as the larger Universe. Also I started to identify myself as everything and everybody that exists within that larger Universe. I would actually walk around and say to myself, as I looked at the many things and beings, "that's me, that's me." These are only a few of the ways that I have and continue to experience Oneness over the years both the experientially and intellectually.
In Oneness all aspects of the world take on a sort of Holiness. In Oneness the Universe and everything in it is seen as perfect, just not a perfection to satisfy human desires. this very place is the Land of Lotuses. In Oneness we come to identify ourselves with the Buddha, this very body is the body of the Buddha, but this body now is not just our limited human body but a body without limits containing the whole Universe.
All these highfalutin experiences and thoughts, what does this have to do with how we function as human beings in this world? With the first two wisdoms we have resolved the question of birth and death, we have resolved our fears and anxieties, our history, our karma. This resolution has a certain effect, it settles the mind. We see with a clarity which was previously obscured and a freedom of thought which was previously restrained. Many practitioners of Zen seem to disdain dualistic thought, though this disdain is dualistic. There is a place in our practice where we are trying to overcome our dualistic way of of thinking. But there is also a place where we have to acknowledge the practicality of dualistic thought. Dualism exists within the non-dual. If we understand this then dualistic thought becomes a tool to freely use. This third wisdom is to clearly discriminate without confusion. I studied philosophy in college and I had a professor who would tare into my use of language, teaching me to use language and think clearly. I think that this was an important discipline. Extending this discipline is insight into non-duality because now when we come back to dualistic thinking we clearly see our dualistic assumptions that riddle out thoughts. With this insight we loose our attachment to these dualistic thoughts, but instead of purging ourselves from dualistic thinking we can use it freely.
Now comes the fourth wisdom, how do we use, out there in the everyday world, our ability to discriminate and use dualistic thought? Most of us are caught in a very limited world view. We obsess over what we want, how we feel, maybe we think a lot about our family, maybe we extend our thoughts to the larger world but usually we do this with judgments based upon our own personal attachments and limited world view. We Buddhists call this Samsara. But through our practice we learn to look out at the world without all these I centered attachments and judgments and what we see and feel and think is our unity with all things and it is through this understanding and feeling that we now act. I might say something so absurd as, we become conduits for the Universe's love, compassion and self realization This last wisdom is just the skill in which we function as conduits of the this love, compassion, and self realization.
Hakuin, at least in translation, places a singular emphasis an the four fold wisdom, as not being four separate wisdoms plural but rather as four aspects of a single wisdom. If we review we will see that all four aspects cannot be separated from our practice of zazen. The Sixth Patriarch of Zen Hui Neng refused to separate wisdom from Zazen. He said, "Good friends what is zazen and wisdom like? They are like a lamp and it's light. ... The names may be two but in essence they are basically one and the same"* In time and place wisdom may manifest differently. Insight may grow in time but the root is in our practice of Zazen.
So ends my commentary on The Song of Zazen by Hakuin Zenji. If you have any comments please add them to the Blog.
* This quote if from Thomas Cleary's translation of The Sutra of Hui Neng. I changed the words stabilization to zazen and insight to wisdom to make the language more in line with my commentary.