Monday, February 1, 2010

On Discrimination

In the Xin Xin Ming, it is written:


I translate this as: Arriving at the Way is not difficult, only hate picking and choosing.

The Ancient Zen masters of China were always warning about the discriminating mind. In English, the word discrimination comes from the Latin, discriminare, which means “to divide.” If you look closely at the characters in the Xing Xing Ming, you will see that picking and choosing consists of two characters: 揀擇.

揀 is an image of a hand splitting apart a bundle, and taking one thing from the bundle. 擇 is an image of a hand, and an image of an eye spying on a criminal. My research tells me it means to “pick over”, which makes sense. If I were an ancient Chinese watching a criminal, I would be watching to make sure he didn’t do something to me.

The third link in the chain of dependent origination, the Great Chain that binds sentient being to the Wheel of Life, is vijnana. Vijnana is usually translated as consciousness, but this is a loose translation. Vi- means to divide, as in vipassana, dividing awareness. Jnana means knowing. I prefer to translate this as “discriminating knowing”, or “discriminating mind”.

What all these have in common is dividing. Splitting. Breaking. Smashing. Picking and choosing is tearing out the chunks of life we like, and rejecting the parts we don’t. This division is known as “duality”.

The mystic sages and philosophers of old were always talking about unity. All is one. Become one with God. This is especially evident in Taoist thought, where all things are linked by the Tao, which is their source and root. It is not something to accept intellectually, but to be explored in meditation and contemplation. If we investigate this thoroughly, we find this to be true, and the more we investigate, the deeper the truth becomes. We live in a universe, after all, not a poly-verse.

So when there is picking and choosing, we are carving up this essential unity into pieces (the Buddha cleverly uses this ability in service of the truth, but this is a topic for another time). The problem is, experience doesn’t come in chunks. It comes as a whole. The rose doesn’t come as simply a pretty color and a nice scent, it comes with stem, thorns, and sometimes, bees. A sunny day can provide gentle warmth, but it can also make us hot and thirsty. When we cut reality up, we are not seeing things as they are (which is one way to translate the Buddhist word “dharma”). Buddhism teaches that we crave the pleasant, reject the pleasant, and become numb to the neutral. This is a problem because what is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral is all mixed up. And as Lao Zi would be quick to point out, pleasant and unpleasant define each other. You can’t have the good without the bad. Yin and yang always appear together.

The discriminating mind divides the undividable. And it divides according to the whims of the ego: that ragtag jumble of likes and dislikes we’ve acquired during our life. We try to create, on earth, our own vision of heaven. Some one who likes punk will blast punk out of their stereos. Some one who likes classical music will find punk offensive, and complain when the neighbors play it too loud. We try to surround ourselves with our likes, keep away our dislikes, and avoid the neutrals when possible. As the world is in a state of constant change, so must we constantly recreate this personal heaven. Our ego jerks us around our whole lives trying to finding lasting happiness. Jesus warned his disciples not to build their houses on the sand. The entire shifting, changing, phenomenal world is nothing but one big sandbox.

So what’s the solution?

John Blofeld wrote that the Taoist accepts things as they are, one at a time. I like this summary--- it is very elegant and piercing. The Buddha said that we must realize the true nature of our desires, the source of our suffering. A Christian may be told to put all things down and follow God. God’s will, not my will, be done.

There is a Zen koan about a monk who spent years searching for enlightenment. He traveled high and low, through the great plains and cold mountains of China. The monk studied with many teachers, read many sutras, and experienced many states of meditation. One day, he found himself in a marketplace, listening in on a conversation between a butcher and a customer. The customer was asking the butcher for the best cuts of meat.

The butcher replied, “All of my cuts are the best.” Hearing this, the monk achieved enlightenment. As the Third Patriarch tells us the way is easy--- if we can only get rid of picking and choosing.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Mr. Matt J! You appear to have a idiosyncratic taste for Dharmic texts. Also once consumed; the ability to vomit large chunks of it into digestible, edible, pieces for Western Buddhist and seekers of the truth. Bravo!!