Saturday, June 29, 2013

Attachment to Emptiness

If a Zen teacher poses the following question (assuming he has a pen and a cup):

  This pen and this cup are they the same or different?

How can you answer?

Seems like such a silly question. Anybody who looks at the two objects can clearly see a pen and a cup. So why would a spiritual teacher ask this?

In an earlier post, the Heart Sutra and Sunyata were discussed. In the Heart Sutra it says "Form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form."

What is this emptiness? Also known as Sunyata, the short version is that life can be viewed as transitory and without independent existence. A simple example is me and the sound I am hearing now. The human ears don't exist in a vacuum. The inner ear needs contact from the sound's waves for the sound to make an impression.

With that simple example in mind. Are the pen and the cup the same or different? If you were to answer "the same", the teacher would likely say: "You are attached to emptiness." Because the student was stuck in the absolute where there is no difference between things. Difference is made by thinking. If you were to answer "different", the teacher would likely say: "You are attached to name and form." How can you win?

Different teachers have different styles. Zen Master Seung Sahn might have said something like "If you say the same, I will hit you 30 times. If you say different, I will hit you thirty times." I never heard of Seung Sahn actually hitting people. It was more of a teaching mechanism.

So back to the question. What answer would a Zen teacher accept?