Discussions of Zen Buddhism in all shapes and sizes.
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Did you ever use the phrase "beyond belief?" Sometimes it is used as an expression of wonder and delight ("That cheesecake is beyond belief!") and sometimes to express horror or disgust ("The reasoning behind the American invasion of Iraq is beyond belief!") And probably there are other uses I can't think of right off hand.
Beyond belief. It's sort of interesting. When something is "beyond belief," what is it exactly? Isn't it just something that defies convenient description or philosophical explanation? -- a gob-stopper? something that leaves conventional language in the dust? something that throws a bright light on our usual ways of talking and thinking and knowing?
What is it that is beyond belief? Isn't it just experience? Isn't it experience that trumps belief every time? And isn't every moment a moment of experience? And if this is true, what does it imply about our cherished and often much-praised beliefs?
My Zen teacher once summed it up in terms of Zen practice: "For the first four or five years (of practice), hope and belief are necessary. After that, it's not so necessary?" Why? Because with some practice under our belts, we are more at ease with experience and less in need of explanations and philosophies and religions that dance around that experience and can never capture it. Things are, so to speak, "beyond belief" -- get used to it!
Maybe a good example is the story of the young Gautama riding outside the palace gates. On four different occasions he saw four different sights: A dead man; a sick man; an old man; and an ascetic. These sights struck him in the heart ... they were beyond whatever he believed. The fact that they were primarily gloomy in nature (no one wants to die or be sick or get old) doesn't matter so much: The sights might as easily have been full of joy ... the important part is that they struck his heart and called his believing life into question in ways he found compelling. Whether he believed in death, sickness, and old age was immaterial: Such things were just facts, facts that were and remain beyond belief, beyond "me." Gob-stoppers.
Savvy and quick people may hear such an argument and conclude that belief really is second-rate stuff, stuff for people who are more inclined to talk the talk than to walk the walk. And there is plenty of evidence to support this view, plenty of talk, plenty of belief. But I agree with my teacher: Belief and hope are a fine starting point, even a necessary one ... if we have spent our whole lives weaving one belief system or another, how else could anyone begin to practice? There's no skipping over what we have never skipped over in the past. So belief and hope are a good inspiration, a good starting point.
But hope and belief are good warnings as well. Believing that things are "beyond belief" is just an extension of old, cozy habits -- habits that have not eased our lives in the past. Somehow -- probably with practice -- we have to make true what has always been true. Sickness, old age, and death are things we can believe in and feel smug in that belief. But they are also beyond belief ... they are simply true. And the same is true for any other experience -- from exhaling to cheesecake to singing hymns to driving a car.
So if beliefs cannot possibly capture what is true, what can? If all things are beyond belief and, so to speak, ineffable ....
I haven't got the answers.
But I bet you have.
You, after all, are beyond belief!
Long bit of noodling.
Keep spinning those noodles genkaku, they make tasty noodle soup
"Whether the water is cold or warm, only you will know, and it is not something you can describe to others."
Master Hanshan Deqing "Essentials of Practice and Enlightenment for Beginners" Translation by Guo-gu Shi
I was thinking about similar stuff inspired by the 'person hanging from a branch by her teeth koan'.
Someone asks the hanging lass: "What was Bodhidharma's intention in coming from the West", if she says something she falls from the tree losing her life, if she says nothing she fails the questioner.
"Pride comes before a fall" as they say, so no 'pride' would mean we'd have nothing to fall from if we decide to really answer the question... and I don't think this describes a tidy 'one fall ends all' event at all.
Shinji Shobogenzo Workshop: http://koanworkshop.blogspot.com/
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