By P.S. Vasu
Stories that illustrate the foundation of Zen philosophy
A says he is not afraid. B says he is not afraid and he is also not afraid of being afraid. The first statement comes from a mind that is tight and assertive—a mind that clings to fixed viewpoints. The second statement comes from a mind that is nimble and free-flowing—a mind that does not cling to fixed viewpoints. The first type of mind is an 180º mind, represented by a half circle. The second is a 360º mind, represented by a full circle.
The 360º mind does not have any preconceived notions—not even the preconceived notion that there should not be any preconceived notions. The 360º mind is open, flexible and uncontrived. It is without blocks and always change-ready.
When a novice starts learning martial arts, he wears a white belt, symbolic of innocence. After months of practice, the white belt gets dirty and turns brown, symbolic of the first degree of attainment. After more practice, the belt gets soiled and eventually turns black, symbolic of full attainment.
If the practitioner does not stop learning even after full attainment, the black belt starts getting frayed, turning almost white, symbolic of return to innocence. The frayed white belt represents technical competence of an experienced martial artist, combined with the innocence and receptivity of a beginner. It signifies going beyond technique and embracing no-technique—coming full circle.
Once Picasso said: ‘I used to draw like Raphael. But it has taken me a lifetime to draw like a child.’
Picasso was a competent artist when he drew like Raphael. He became a great artist only when he awakened the child in him and started drawing without any pre-determined technique.
The same is true of every art. For example, the contribution of technique in the work of a competent musician is 100 per cent. But the contribution of technique in the work of a great musician is only 10 per cent or so—the remaining 90 per cent being contributed by the child in the musician. Only when you transcend technique, you become great in your field. You come full circle.
Kabir never accepted any gift from his disciples. But his son Kamal never refused anything that his disciples brought to him. This made Kabir unhappy.
One day, he reproached his son: ‘I do not accept any gift because gifts mean nothing to me. But it pains me to know that you grab all that your disciples bring to you.’
Kamal said: ‘Father, if gifts mean nothing to you, why are you bothered whether I accept them or reject them?’ Here, Kabir had an 180º mind, and Kamal a 360º one.
THE VIRTUOUS KING
When Boddhidharma visited China in the sixth century, he was invited to the King’s court. The king was proud of his spirituality and the good deeds he had done for his people. He narrated what all he had done to promote religion and then asked Boddhidharma’s opinion about the merit he earned.
Boddhidharma’s reply was blunt: ‘No merit.’
Obviously, being virtuous was not a great virtue in Boddhidharma’s scheme of things. The king had an 180º mind. Boddhidharma had a 360º mind. You can’t be spiritual as long as you wear the badge of spirituality. Taking off the badge is coming full circle.
Once there was a conference of religions to which all faiths sent their representatives. Every representative stated forcefully that his religion was great. When it was the turn of Zen’s representative, he stated truthfully: ‘There is nothing great in Zen.’
A member of the audience with a deep understanding of Zen got up and said: ‘Your saying that there is nothing great in Zen actually makes Zen sound as something great. So you should not have said there is nothing great in Zen.’
The Zen representative had an 180º mind. The member of the audience had a 360º mind.
A GOB OF SPIT
For years, Henry Miller lived the life of a would-be writer. He was 45 when he wrote his first book Tropic of Cancer in 1934. Here is what he writes in the opening page:
‘I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am (author’s italic). Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God. ‘This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, and defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants of God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty. what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off-key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse.’
Henry Miller could not have written such a powerful book if he had not got over his romanticized visions of becoming a writer. He could write the book he did precisely because there were ‘no more books to be written.’
With the transition from ‘I thought that I was an artist’ to ‘I am’, he had come full circle. As a result, he went beyond mere writing to ‘singing’—not to mention the funny things he did to God and the like in the process.
THE MUMBAI SCHOOL
Do you have free will? If you believe you do, then you have an 180º mind. The alternative seems to be the view that there is no free will.
A well-meaning, emerging school of thought in Mumbai, India, has been hammering into people’s minds that free will is an illusion and without God’s will you can’t make the slightest move. This viewpoint is also indicative of an 180º mind.
Insisting that it is all God’s will is as much a concept as insisting that you have free will. When something happens, it just happens. Sometimes it seems that you made it happen. Some other times it seems that it happened by itself or God (or the totality) made it happen. How you view the happening is more a question of perspective than of fact. Which means that the so-called your will and God’s will are both labels. Taking off the labels is to come full circle.
THE MIRROR EFFECT
Certain things in the world appeal to you. Certain other things don’t. You have your considered opinions about different issues. You may believe there is a benign power somewhere that cares for you. You may believe it’s a chaotic world without any rhyme or reason.
How you perceive the world not only tells about the world, but it is also a reflection of how your mind works. Seeing your own mind in how the world appears to you is to come full circle.
When you strive for enlightenment, it’s an 180º vision. When enlightenment happens, it’s nothing like what you believed it to be. Then enlightenment and unenlightenment don’t seem to be two things.
Saying that they are two things and saying that they are one thing also don’t appear to be two things. With that realization, you come full circle. The core of this piece does not lie in what has been stated but in what has not been stated. When you see that, you’ll come full circle.
With that hint, it is time for this piece to come full circle as well.
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