Scripture and Knowledge
"Well, sweet Jasmine, I can't make heads or tails outta this. It must be Scripture."
"Must be, Benny...deep too, I bet."
"Scripture this: 'The Tree of Enlightenment was tall and outstanding. Its trunk was diamond, its main boughs were lapis lazuli, its branches and twigs of various precious elements. Its leaves spreading in all directions provided shade like clouds.'"
"Yep, thick as country music. Let's get some coffee."
(Snippet of conversation overheard in Barnes and Noble's Eastern Religion aisle with only slight embellishment)
Off they went to the coffee shop, I presumed, although I lost track of them as I tried to focus my aging eyes on the book they had shoved back into row onto one of the upper shelves. It wasn't an easy task. I had the block right but the exact Brownstone was still in question. In my prime it would have been no problem at all, I could have read along with them from fifteen feet behind. Now everything just kind of looked the same, light or dark markings on dark or light fields. But the book was big - I could tell that much; and what the hell, if worse came to worse, I could 'feel' big. A squint and grope search yielded The Flower Ornament Scripture translated by Thomas Cleary. Sweet Jasmine indeed.
Interestingly enough in his introduction Dr. Cleary directly confronted Benny's off-handed observation with some fine insights upon which I, in the long tradition of the 'fool rushing in,' would now like to comment.
In the West most of us would probably say that the function of scripture is to inspire us, to challenge our resolve to live higher, more ethical lives. But, we suspect, something more than that is needed for a work to be called scripture. Many tomes may be called inspiring and many more may be called efficient means for behavior modification - but they don't necessarily rank as scriptural works. Scripture must have another element. It must attend to the 'infinity' of the path.
Scripture addresses this infinity without the use of logic, rational first-cause argument, or any other discursive thought since the very nature of infinity is not contained in logarithms, although logarithms are contained in it. It always pushes us to the cliffs of the fantastic. It, as Cleary has said, sounds vaguely reminiscent of the very same mental processes that the original Koans operated on.
Part of its function is an antidote to inflation. Reading scripture can be a sobering agent that cures the intoxication that meditation often causes. It is easy to fall prey to the power and the bliss that can come from deep meditation. We are all kings of our own worlds. It's good to be king, but only for a moment. It is better to see we are kings and we are not kings, we are gods, we are not gods, we are Self we are not Self.
This extinction of all conditioned views, the ending of all practices, the complete realization of Noble Wisdom cannot be accomplished by utilizing only a part of our abilities (the rational discursive process). It does not demean that process to say that it is not enough, that, on the contrary, the more we know about the 'little real' the less we are apt to mistake it for the 'Big Real'. Furthermore, we all must feel grateful that our culture expends so much effort in making discoveries about the little real. It may only be my American prejudice but I feel that each advance we make potentially allows others to break through the drudgery of life at basic levels, thereby affording more people the opportunity for these grand metaphysical explorations. I believe it was Swami Vivekanada who, when commenting about the East and West to the Parliament of Religion, said to the gathering, "Forget sending missionaries to India, send them bread. Religion they have aplenty, bread so little." But I digress.
This Infinity, this sense of absolute reality underpins that which our sense data and mental conceptions 'normally' lead us to construe as reality. That is not to say that this data is false or illusionary unless and until we begin speaking in the absolute sense. But there is an inclination in us to acquire this absolute sense since without it we feel incomplete by half. The ability to accumulate sense data and to conceptualize from it is, after all, a big part of what we are. It is the way we build knowledge but oddly (perhaps not so oddly) it only takes us so far up on the scaffolding of wisdom. I'm afraid that the ten thousand volumes in Alexandria's library wouldn't help us, fire or not. The Wisdom Storehouse is kept in another place.
Scientific cultures as they add, generation upon generation, more and finer details of the little real, may develop a snobbery of sorts and view those that came before as primitive. There is even a curious thesis going around these days that this applies to infinity as well - that we are 'evolving God'. But I don't think we are. The argument appears in various forms but it always contains this evolving process colored in differing tapestries like "the evolving body of light", from mensch to ubermensch, from the mental to the supramental. It is always wrapped in the warm cloak of logic and made suspicious because of it. It always contains an element of "bringing god down and elevating man, forgetting that that which is brought down has always been and cannot be added to or subtracted from. I don't think this evolution works on the same principles as cellular mutation. Wisdom cannot be spoken of in this way. It is not cumulative, or transmitted genetically, or culturally acquired as communal tradition. It does not pass from generation to generation, being at its very essence an individual phenomenon. Because it does not lend itself to mass understanding, it is held in suspicion.
Each of us potential buddhas will have to make our own personal journey. Each of us, like the Buddha, will have to make the commitment to not rise from our bodhi tree until the breakthrough occurs. The Buddha was well schooled and skilled, yet he, too, had to generate the great iron ball of doubt that we all must generate. There is something in the mechanics of the process itself that initiates the great 'turning about'.
Along with that ball of doubt we must develop love, compassion, honesty, and the will to surrender our selves. Touchingly it is what brought us to the edge of the world in the first place; and when we lay it down it must be with reverence and gratitude.
When we stumble upon the secret of the universe we suddenly realize why it has and will always remain a secret. We cannot speak of it intelligibly. We open our mouths a sound comes out, "It was like 'aaahhh'."
Those that write the scriptures speak from this place - not as tourists but rather as residents who are just looking around describing the scenery. With grand expansive language they beckon us and warn us, "Don't be satisfied with small enlightenments." WHAT? Did we not receive this grace when we were perched on the edge of the world? How can we not be satisfied? You mean there is more work to be done? (I'm starting to feel like a Calvinist).
They speak of infinities as neighbors and hope arises, love arises, compassion is stirred. One part of us comprehends while the other is stupefied.
This is why we read the scriptures, not out of duty, not for a culminating argument, but because they vibrate the forehead. Knowledge comes to us flat and colorless. Wisdom comes like wild diamond horses, faceted gems tinged with feeling, like a scripture.
So it is this premise that we carry with us as we go into Lanka.
Last modified: November 22, 2004
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