Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Layer 24 Chopping Wood, Carrying Water, and the Ox-Herding Pictures

Here are more quotations from Zohar and Marshall’s ‘Spiritual Intelligence’.

"The mystics of every great tradition have spoken of something within the self. It is the pure light that shines or burns within us. Spoken of in such terms, the centre sounds awe-inspiring, attractive and holy - but perhaps too abstract for many of us to grasp. Yet each of us lives it and experiences it when we live our daily lives in a spiritually intelligent way.
It is the feeling of holiness in everyday objects and events, the sense of the sacred in an act of loving, the almost unbearable ecstasy we feel when understanding something deeply for the first time, the sense of elation when we bring something new into the world, the sense of deep satisfaction when we see justice done, the deep sense of peace when we know that that which we serve also serves ‘God’.
All six of the spiritual paths lead to the centre, to an experience that could be called ‘enlightenment’. But when lived in the most spiritually intelligent way possible all paths also lead from the centre, back to the world. The Buddha returned to the world so that all might become enlightened.
An ordinary person high in SQ does not just seek the bliss of knowing the centre, but responds to it spontaneously and then takes responsibility for bringing back to share with the world the light he has seen, the energy he has gained, the integrity he has experienced. He becomes an enlightened parent, an enlightened teacher, an enlightened cook, an enlightened lover, and so on.
None of us is really complete, really whole, really enlightened, until we have found a creative way to live, to love deeply and without selfishness, to serve our fellows, to be ‘servant leaders’.
The high SQ or enlightenment that we achieve has about it the incredible grace of the everyday. In Zen Buddhism there is a saying, ‘Before I was enlightened, I hewed wood and drew water. After enlightenment, I hewed wood and drew water.’ This is not saying that enlightenment does not bring progress and transformation, but rather that real transformation is to bring us back to the place from which we started, only now to live it fully alive and aware.
In A Manual of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki reproduces some fifteenth-century versions of ten original twelfth-century Chinese drawings, with accompanying texts, that illustrate the Zen understanding of enlightenment. They use the allegory of a man herding an ox.
All paths lead to and from the centre. Following them is a quest, but at a certain point realising them is an act of surrender. Even the craving to become enlightened eventually disappears."


I strongly recommend reading Zohar and Marshall’s book.

It’s interesting that they include in it the entire sequence of the Ox-Herding pictures.

The Ox-Herding pictures are brilliant. To me they represent the process of discovering a thing called Zen, wanting to seek its goal of enlightenment, and after much study and practice starting to understand the central idea of Zen, and how to live a Zen life, which is indeed possible for anyone who is prepared to spend some time studying and reflecting on Zen thought. I first came across the pictures several years ago, and  appreciated what a superb metaphor they are. My understanding of the story is as follows.

* A young man decides to seek enlightenment, or his true self, as represented by the Ox.
* At first he sees only the footprints of the ox, or impressions and signs of what the ox (Zen enlightenment, his authentic self) might be like and where it may be found.
* Finally he sees the ox itself, and has a clear sight of the form of the body, the way it moves, etc. But it is still away in the distance.
* After some time he manages to approach the ox, and tries to hold on to it and tame it, to make it his own. However he realises that the ox is too powerful, and will only go with him if it chooses to.
* After training himself, and becoming familiar with the ways of the ox, he is ready to approach it in the right spirit of gentleness, friendship and respect.
* The ox allows him to ride on his back, and takes him back to his village.
* The ox then disappears, and the young man wonders whether the ox is after all an illusion. His life, and the whole of life, suddenly seems empty.
* He then realises that the whole of existence is an illusion, and that it is pointless to want to ‘possess’ the ox, or even stay with it, to be obsessive and possessive of the ox.
* He now sees himself as the fool on the hill, as someone who has foolishly considered that one may possess wisdom, or wealth, or power, or enlightenment. Everything depends on living each day as well as possible, and recognising the joy and bliss of everyday reality. He understands that real enlightenment consists of living life humbly, simply, unconcerned with possessions, status, salvation, etc.
* He now comes down from his hill, goes back into society, and lives amongst the people, trusting that his behaviour and attitude will bring support, encouragement and inspiration to those he meets, happy to serve others and happy to live an ordinary life, fully aware of how precious it is. To be back where he started, but now living life fully alive and aware.


This is what D.T. Suzuki says in a book called Living By Zen, in a chapter called Approaches To Satori:
“The study of Zen requires great intellectual integrity and strength of character. The persistent pursuit of one task is no easy business, especially when this involves the disregarding of worldly affairs. But unless it is sustained by great spiritual aspirations, the study of Zen will be impossible.

“The separation of ourselves from the all-embracing, all submerging “ocean” [of life] is the function of the intelligence, for it is because of this that we crave for the water of life. Here lies the great spiritual tragedy of man; the water of life is desired, and this water surrounds him, soaks him, enters into every fibre and every cell of his tissues, is indeed himself, and yet he does not realise it and seeks it outside of himself, even beyond the “great ocean”. [The quest for heaven and an ‘afterlife’.]

“The intelligence is a great mischief-worker, and yet without it we shall never be able to wake up the greater one. It separates us from the ocean in which we live; if not for this separation we should be found forever slumbering under the waves, unseeing and ignorant. The only trouble is, as Gensha says, that we look for “the great ocean” in words, concepts, and their various combinations, and the result is that we know nothing and understand nothing.”


All of this argues for the need to use to use all of our intelligences in combination, and only by doing so can we find Zen and live a life of enlightenment. Only by using all of our senses, plus our powers of intuition and empathy, plus our instincts and our passion, as well as our intellects, can we become fully ourselves, become self-actualised, become at one with ourselves and others, and with the cosmos.

Learning to do this is the challenge facing each and every one of us, and facing our society. So far, very few of us seem to understand this. Why indeed should we - when our schools, our media, and our so-called leaders are themselves generally ignorant of these truths? Or if they do recognise these truths then they pay them very little attention, preferring instead to attend to mainly material goals and the things that seem to be important in achieving those material goals.

It’s as though the human race has never moved on from scrabbling for survival, spending every day seeking food and shelter, concerned only with material security and well-being. And yet even so-called primitive humans, through their immediate connection with nature and its majesty, and having time to appreciate it in all its awe and wonder, probably possessed higher degrees of spiritual intelligence and enlightenment and happiness than we do.


Interestingly, Suzuki uses the word “actualisation” in Living By Zen. Given that he wrote it back in the nineteen forties, I wonder whether Maslow acquired the word and the concept from Suzuki and Zen?

This is what Suzuki wrote in the chapter on satori, on pages 54 and 55:

“Zen is not interested so much in conceptualisation as in “existential thinking”, so-called. Satori is said to take place when consciousness realises a state of “one thought”, which is ichinen in Japanese, and is the shortest possible unit of time.

“When time is reduced to a point with no durability, it is ‘absolute present’ or ‘eternal now’. From the point of view of existential thinking, this ‘absolute present’ is no abstraction; it is, on the contrary, alive with creative vitality. Satori is the experience of this fact

“The ‘eternal now’ is the absolute point of time where there is no past left behind, no future waiting ahead. Satori stands at this point, where potentialities are about to actualise themselves. Satori does not come out of death [i.e. it's not in ‘heaven’]; it is at the very moment of actualisation. It is in fact the moment itself, which means that it is life as it lives itself. "

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