THE MYSTERY OF THE WORD AND REALITY
"I have come into the world to give testimony to bare Reality"
1. Reality and Zen
I want to begin by clarifying the word "Zen" because it is too often assumed to have a unique connection with "Zazen" or some other connotation attached to Buddhism alone. However that is being too restrictive, and the viewpoint which underlies such an association is due to one's ignoring certain facts.
The word "Zen" etymologically derives from "Dhyana" of Sanscrit origin. In Chinese "Dhyana" became "Zenna" and later it was abbreviated to "Zen". The reality encompassed by the word Zen may then have been somewhat modified due to its association with certain periods of history, but fundamentally it remains the same. Zen is a way to Reality and to live in Reality. It is not exclusive to Buddhism.
"Zazen" is Zen practiced in the sitting posture but zazen is only one element of the Zen life. The Zen sect which concentrates on zazen is not meant to monopolize it. The practice of zazen goes along with the study of sacred texts. So whenever one uses the word "Zen", one should not take it simply for "zazen ", or for something that belongs exclusively to the Zen sect of Buddhism.
I always use use its original meaning of "Dhyana" or "contemplation." The meaning of the term "contemplation" is not always evident. It seems to me that it aims at the same Reality as does Zen. This manner of using the word "Zen" is not peculiar to myself. A few years ago I received a visit from a priest of the Jainism sect. He was accompanied by his disciples and some yoga masters. The Jainist priest proposed that we have a discussion concerning the methodology of "Dhyana" (he actually used this very word). As a Christian I accepted this proposal. It turned out to be myself who was the one to bring about most of the clarification. 'We found that the essential elements of these techniques of deepening silence and the growing freedom developed by detachment from phenomenal experiences, are the same in both traditions .
I want to look at the Reality of Zen in the context of the revelation of Jesus Christ. I want to center my consideration on the mystery of the "Word" because I see the mystery of the Word as a fundamental key in our Christ-entered lives. I feel that research on this mystery is lacking in spite of its extreme importance.
2. The spheres of the word
a) The parrot word
The parrot word is mysterious and can include all the mystery contained in 'the Word." But here I will take it up as representing a superficial sphere of the word. Because of a process of assimilation a parrot mechanically repeats without any modification the words that it has heard from the people around it. We can perceive at once whose word it was and in what circumstances it was spoken. It is really a word that floats around like particles of dust in the air. There are no connections with thought or personal experiences. It is being repeated unconsciously.
Such a parrot word can be "democracy," "freedom," or even a word from Holy Scripture. It is a simple repetition in our imagination or sensual feelings. It is something like the "shadow" of an actual word. What is astonishing is that we can even here experience a taste of the "mystery" of a word.
b) Two kinds of view of the word.
-The black and white word
Reading this heading, one would think at once that it is too poetical and not logical or rational. I would like to touch on this kind of thought-process here. One always seeks to be consciously clear without being lured into the mystery of Reality in what might be mistakenly considered as a sort of "blessed instability." At the basis of this kind of thinking is a view of the word where one takes the word as the image of some idea. I can possibly simplify my meaning here by saying it is a "Greek-Roman view of the rational word". In this aspect, a word represents one single meaning or a group of meanings that can be reduced to one meaning. Unfortunately this view of the word has become almost exclusively adopted by many so-called, civilized and educated people in the western world. I am not condemning this view, for on the contrary, it does represent a certain aspect of the mystery of the word.
Because of the very nature of this kind of word however, serious problems may arise. I will deal with two aspects of the so-called black and white word.
-The abstract word, "the third leg of the chicken."
The right leg of the chicken is not the left, and vice-versa. This is true not only logically but also as a fact. One cannot fit the right and left legs together completely. When a farmer talks about the leg of a chicken he is referring to a concrete leg, the right one or left one , or both legs. In this frame of reference there is no problem. However if one speaks about the "leg of a chicken merely in one's mind, a problem arises. This leg, conceived intellectually, can be the right leg, or left leg or both legs. In other words, it can refer either to the right leg or left leg or both legs. Conceived in an intellectual way, this "leg" which can be the right or left leg, or both legs, is not by this fact neither the right leg itself nor the left leg itself, nor both legs themselves. Such a word conceived only in one's mind, I will call "the third leg of the chicken." Here it is termed a "general," "abstract," or "logical" concept of second (not first) intention.
In this world of the word, one likes to represent a single meaning or some similar, associated meaning of a word. A word cannot carry contradictory meanings. This kind of word is directly connected with ego-consciousness, and using such words is always accompanied by a sense of self -satisfaction or gratification. Any justification or excuse can be possible by composing sentences with words of this nature.
As long as this combination is referring to "reading facts into true Reality," and intertwines with a view of reality as a whole, (which contains many contradictory features), then it can be fruitful. But a free and careless manipulation of these words, without attention to the fullness of reality, can prove to be disastrous. In other words, such a result occurs when the third leg of the chicken "begins to walk by itself".
It is in just such a circumstance that one justifies the slaughter of the Jewish people, or some groups have conquered other nations in the name of promoting a "greater benefit" or improvement of humanity." For several centuries Churches have condemned many brethren within the same faith because of different expressions by which that faith was being expressed externally.
All those who talk about “worship” without its real, concrete impact before a known God, or speak about “prayer” without the agony, tears and interior distress that accompanies it, would be manipulating people by the “third leg of the chicken.” One should be careful to use only the simplest words in concrete situations. Discussions about “ Peace in the Near- East” should not begin by talking about the intellectual word, “freedom.” With this type of discussion, true peace would once again be lost.
In such instances, one should ask, “At the minimum, what do you want?” The answer in that case would be, “I don’t want to be killed,” “I don’t want to see my nation persecuted.” The one asking the question would then have to say, “We also don’t want to be killed or persecuted.” How often and how much such broadly interpreted words as “democracy, progress, and civilization” have brought disruption and crime into the world. I believe all human beings should reflect seriously on this fact.
- The Word Idea (real reasoning)
When we want to clarify something in reality, we have a natural tendency to use our reasoning faculties. Reasoning is carried on within the world of ideas. If it starts with simple “word ideas” and ends with simple “word ideas”, it is not true reasoning but only “playing with reasoning,” Real thought is that which always carries that which is beyond logic (reasoning) into an encounter with reality. If not, there is no content in this reasoning. As long as thought carries an echo of what is beyond reasoning or logic in its first encounter with reality, it is not alien to the Zen (or contemplative) life. When we start reasoning at the time we are meeting up with some unknown reality, if we are doing so with insecurity, in other words not seeking the security of “satisfying our understanding,” and we sincerely endure the dark tunnel of despair that is present in trying to clarify reality, we are now somehow preparing ourselves for an encounter with a new form of reality. This new form will extend far beyond the original horizon of our thought. Thus even in the area of pure science, we shall reach a stage of coming to encounter what I call “the Word-Event.” All scientists in the front line of their field, who have contributed to the progress of science, have experienced this kind of process.
Real reasoning is fruitful in itself What makes it unfruitful does not consist in the reasoning process itself, but in the very fact that one has lost the sense of “mystery” contained in the process. What one initially conceives is the tidying up of some image born in the first encounter with a reality, and then once it has been conceived, it becomes independent. One concept however does not change into another concept in an easy, continuous manner. For in the replacing of one concept by another, the first concept has to be thoroughly digested, decomposed, and then “reborn” into a new entity. The tragedy found in many modern intellectuals is that they have lost sight of the entity of “mystery” contained in a concept. Reasoning, even real reasoning is not all there is in the process of our thinking.
Another way of our reading concrete things into reality can always be parallel to real reasoning. It is not “intuition” compared to “reasoning.” There appear to be some people who, upon looking into some aspects of reality, fail to see that there is present something that will always “envelop” real reasoning. For example, let us see what’s happening in the mysterious reality of a new baby. Here the central attitude should be that of a person looking into the “whole mystery” of this reality. Such an attitude, common to the ancient world of wisdom, has been rejected in our day as childish and primitive. This is because there is confusion about the difference between this seemingly simplistic attitude, and a minimum degree of so-called, “intuition.” Because of a certain degree of ignorance on their part, people who do not reason deeply enough, have often condemned the all- embracing viewpoint in the world of ancient wisdom. This occurs because there is a deficiency in the process of their reasoning. This then amounts to a form of ignoring the broader view.
3. The Word Event
When a child begins to cry, it cries ‘A,A.’ No one taught babies to cry that way. Their very existence itself cries ‘A,A.’ And when they begin to call upon their mother for care, they begin to cry ‘ma ma.’ These words express the whole of the baby. These simple words are the words of a baby that has been born from the bosom of a mysterious engagement with the unknown, hidden hand of a creator. By oriental people such words are considered to be “real words.” This is the Word-Event. In Japanese it is called “koto” and koto means at one and the same time, an event and a word. “Shabda” in Sanskrit has a similar meaning. In Chinese Tao, it means both “to say” and “a concrete way of life”.
In Hebrew, “dhabar” is no exception. But in the case of the Jewish people, because of the deep, penetrating experiences of the events caused during many centuries by the “hand of God,” this word, “dhabar” carries a true and strong image of the Hand of God. This image is what is shown by a wonderful artistic symbol of the One producing the drama, “as a great hand with an eye in its center.” Clinging to each finger of the great hand are little hands and little eyes in each of these hands. It represents in its simplicity and concreteness, God Himself, and the lives of those who have been sent by God.
When a farmer is taking care of his rice fields, each time such a planting and growth-event occurs he does not run to the library for assistance. He listens to the rice fields themselves. He knows that the fields will tell him when they need watering or fertilizing. The rice itself is thus a factual word. It speaks for itself in a wholesome way. Reasoning with “word ideas” comes about because of the original “word-event.” As we have seen previously, the “word idea” is not all, and thereby not the whole word.
When we use a word, it is not always a word-idea. If a word concerns the entire existence of human beings, it will carry contradictory meanings. It has paradoxes in it. In Hebrew, the word “hesed” means both grace and shame at the same time. When we are somehow living in grace, we have a sense of peace in the bottom of our hearts, but at the same time within our minds, we are conscious of our dependence on another for our own existence. As long as we experience this form of an “echo” of a word, even though it may be a parrot word, it is not alien to a prayer life, or a contemplative life consistent with our description of Zen.
The ultimate Word-Event is by itself an indescribable word, but still has some possibility of being transcribed into a word-idea but this occurs only through a process of abstraction and restriction.
The word of Holy Scripture is essentially a “word-event” and it should be treated as such. However as long as we treat it as a “word-idea,” we shall never be able to truly penetrate it. In Zen-Christian, contemplative prayer, we have to continuously attempt to cut off as much abstract reasoning as we can. This cutting-off process fills us with vacuous explanations, selfish kinds of gratifications, self pretensions, and an ego-centered, self-consciousness. Together with all other movements within our egos, these express our hidden desires. To help us realize these emotions within ourselves, as one among many among other forms of prayer, there is that form in which the simple activity of consistent concentration is practiced. This is seen in all the so-called “mystical” traditions throughout humanity, including our own Christian heritage.
In the early generations of the Church, the Fathers of the Desert discovered, for example, the assistance we could gain by concentration on our breathing. In the Middle Ages, the “Jesus prayer” was transmitted to us from the monks of the Greek churches. The words of Holy Scripture are not alien to this form of concentrating prayer; but because we are so involved in the Greek-Roman style of reasoning, we tend to translate Scriptural words into “word-ideas,” and describe them in word ideas. This is almost an unconscious mechanism with us. To help ourselves, we have to learn to be receptive of the word of Scripture its original form and meaning, and upon each such reception, we may try to quiet our ego by fully assimilating such a word. In meditative practice this form of penitential attitude, plus a “cutting off’ which can be occurring through the prolonged attention to the “word of God,” should go hand in hand.”
If we advance in our meditative state, we become more sensitive to the “Word-Event. And as we advance further, the “Word-Encounter” is more likely to come closer to us, and we gain in some way or other a taste of the “Word” of Christ Himself within the scriptural words.
4. The Word- Encounter
As we proceed into a deeper sphere of reality, we come to meet the “Word- Encounter.” Here there is no possibility of transcribing this encounter into a “Word-Idea.” There could be moments when one is lured into a transcription mood by some mystical words which have their roots in reality. Some persons whose conscious self and sub-consciousness self are quite purified from noise, and in whom the transparency of being begins to penetrate, can as it happens fall into an allured state. But when one wants to have the same experience happen again, and pursues the same word with that aim, consciousness-centered movements will take over and he goes back onto pathways of the past. Let what is gone out go out! If it goes out, let it go out! One should continue in deepening one’s practice of silence.
There would then emerge moments when the ordinary image of words is gone completely, and one would feel called into the simple abyss of deep silence. This does not mean one should leave the concrete world. It means one should leave the consciousness-centered sphere. When one goes out after one has sunk into the continuous experience of deepening silence, it may come about that one hears a “Word Event” which has been hidden from us up to now.
Here one falling leaf can then sing the mystery of the uncreated. When one endures in this pathway, or flees from ego-centeredness in the activities of daily life, and “with gratitude” fully accepts its difficulties and adversities, one would one day arrive at the shore where he/she perceives everything in an unknown, exquisite light. Here the Word-Event has provided one with another revelation. The encounter in this case is with the uncreated sphere. At this stage someone may experience that he/she is you. In the mystery of the “Word Encounter,” it seems to me that somehow we are already facing the mystery of the “Word-God.” By this Word-Encounter, our life changes radically.
5. The Word-God
As we continue to go on into a deeper sphere of the “Word-Event,” we should not measure any distance between ourselves and the “Word-God.” Contemplative life is faith-life and is the natural, unlimited development of faith-life. This type of life (in faith) is a mysterious entity conceived in the “Word-God,” and we know that the Word-God is infinitely beyond our existence.
Faith-life therefore is a mystery of “mutual inclusion through infinite distance.” This does not mean that the Word-God is something abstract to us. That which concretely determines our daily way of life is nothing but the Word-God. It is not objective and cannot be seized by our conscious minds. But the commitment in faith with the Word-God is direct. When we respond to those events upon which we are called to respond with all of our own existence, during the very moments of our needs, and when we look back at what has happened, we shall have a personal indirect taste of the “Word-God” or the “Hand of God.”
Thus our contemplative life with its contemplative practices makes our lives one unit. This “Word-God” is the only word to which our believing selves should respond, and to which one should commit oneself. On this basis, the transformation of our silence into the Divine Silence is essential if we are to become self-liberated. In this sphere of silence we will understand our sins to not only be personal, but also as the sins of humanity which Christ assumed to Himself. Therefore a meditative, contemplative life makes our lives disappear into the life of the Word-God. In its most real sense, it is a life in the bosom of the Father-God. It is a life of mysterious union with the “Word-God,” or the “Hand of God.”
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan the word “Abba” came forth from the prophetic tradition, and John the Baptist heard a voice from heaven, saying ,“My Beloved Son.” The whole life of Jesus would henceforth emerge and pour forth later into the definitive moment when that cry, “Abba,” would become absolute. This happened on the Cross when Jesus cries to his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” The response of the Father has here been fully achieved. Jesus will rise up to a new life. And when, at this absolute, eternal moment, he left his body and blood he asked us to eat it and drink it.
When hi arose and showed himself to the disciples, he demonstrated the trace of the nails in his hands and of the spear in his side. What is important for us to realize is not that we have to have a specialist knowledge of spirituality, nor do we have to reflect excessively upon spiritual considerations but for each one of us in one’s own way to learn to cry, “Abba” with the voice of Christ before an unknown Father. This has to occur far beyond all the hindrances and obstacles that arise because of our personal desires such as concerns for being honored, feelings of vanity, or considerations about one’s position in life. When one really cries “Abba” in the bosom of the Father, using the same “Abba” that Christ used on the Cross, the Holy Trinity is there as a living Spirit. As Scripture has taught us, ”When you cry ‘Abba’ it is by the Spirit of God.”
All of one’s intricate commitments with one’s brethren, and all the “Word Events” taking place among us through God’s Grace, are echoes of this “Abba” uttered by Jesus on the Cross. Ours is to avoid following the pathways of the Sadducees and Pharisees, and to take the very same path that Jesus took, by becoming “little” as He did.
Translated by M.D