Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Rule of Identity

Logically speaking, the East and West can be seen as follows:

West: A = A
East: A does not = A

The Rule of Identity is the basis for Western logic, along with the Rule of the Excluded Middle and the Law of Non-contradiction.  In terms of math and science, they work.  Using this logic, the West has harnessed the awesome power of nature to create modern lives which would rival the splendor of the highest ancient emperor.  Unfortunately, it has also allowed a level of environmental impact previously unseen. 

This rule does not exist in certain Eastern thought.  In Buddhist thought, A does not = A.  In the Diamond Sutra, for instance, you hear things along the lines of “Minds are not minds and that is why they are called minds.”  In Buddhist logic, there is no self, either in persons or in things.  This is due to the observation that nothing has an unchanging, independent nature. 

One classic way to demonstrate this is to take something into the sum of its parts.  A person’s body, for instance, isn’t a body but two arms, two legs, a torso and a head.  A head is actually a skull, skin, eyes, ears, and so on.  You will not find a head or a body in any one or even all of its parts. 

A second classic way to consider multiple points of view.  A person is too small to see if you see it from the moon, but huge from the view of the ant.  A person is one thing to his or her mother, another to the enemy, another to the song bird outside the window.

A third is the consider all the factors that shade into one another.  A person needs the earth, with the proper mix of air, soil, and sunshine in order to live.  A person cannot exist apart from a habitable environment, so how can one say that there is a person apart from that environment?

I’ve gone through many of these in my prior posts.

This isn’t to say that A = A should be discarded.  This is simply one view of things.  When an infinite number of variables are ignored, it does appear that A = A.  In a certain, limited, singular realm, this can lead fantastic results: airplanes, atomic bombs, and computers. 

This Buddhist view, one could say, is the rule of totality.  This rule also applies to practice.  In Zen, it is said that the dharma gates are infinite, yet I vow to enter them all.  This is totality.  How can I then say that one dharma gate is superior to another?  Yet on the other hand, one needs to consider also the limited view.  One needs to apply the right remedy to the right sickness.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Presence of God

One thing I've noticed about the nature of mind is that it likes variety.  It wants to keep experiencing different things, never quite content with what it has.  Always moving from one thing to the next, it is rare to have a moment of pure presence. 

Let us think a moment about the Western idea of God.  In a sense, God is the perfect being.  All present, all knowing, God simply rests in the moment.  The classic western idea of God is as this great being who we turn to to change things, to make them better.  A Holy Santa Claus waiting to grant wishes on the deserving.

When I was younger, I had an incredibly powerful experience of God.  God was not, as I had been led to believe, a person, but rather a presence.  A constant, steady, unyielding presence.  This was not a God of wishes and miracles, but a God of being.  I knew instantly that this was the true God of the mystics. 

Strange as it may seem, the true name of God implies this.  In Exodus, Moses asks God his name, so that he can tell the others.  God says his name is I AM.  In Hebrew, the sense is I Am, I was, and I will be, a sense of being that transcends all time.  Of course, the people, unsatisfied with this God of presence, constantly turn to man-made idols to worship.  They wanted a god they could see and talk to. 

A true mystic seeks to become like God.  It is taught in Western religions that all humans have a spark of the divine within, a godlike part of them.  Most people, in an idolatrous fashion, imagine some sort of subtle soul.  Yet to me, this spark of God is actually our inner presence.  This presence is formless yet existent, a complete paradox.

The idea of God will lead to different forms of religion.  If you imagine God as a powerful judge, then the religion will be narrow and judgmental.  If you imagine God as love, then religion will be one devoted to compassion and service.  The God of presence, however, neither judges nor serves.  The God of presence simply Is, and Is available always to those who seek Him.

How, then, to be like God?  Develop a sense of presence that is open and aware.  God does not interfere with our everyday lives.  God does not seek to destroy or suppress people.  Likewise, we should not seek to destroy or suppress our inner thoughts and energies, but rather bring a sense of presence to them.  This presence, in itself, is transformative.  Like the Tao, it does nothing yet leaves no thing undone.  

In the words of a Tibetan Buddhist, Jamgon Kantrul Rinpoche:

With constant, vigilant mindfulness, sustain this recognition of empty, open, brilliant awareness.
Cultivate nothing else.
There is nothing else to do, or to undo.
Let it remain naturally.
Don't spoil it by manipulating, by controlling, by tampering with it, and worrying about whether you are right or wrong, or having a good meditation or a bad meditation.
Leave it as it is, and rest your weary heart and mind.

Quote from