According to Zen, we should take great care in clarifying both the limitations and the potential of knowledge, as well as practice, and do our utmost to maintain a proper balance of both.
This always seems to be a conversation that starts up on between the scholarly and the experiential – a long held debate that comes in many forms. One promotes study and sutras and the other promotes the experience of Zen in daily life and meditation (or some combination). Both sides banter back and forth, slinging examples, quotes and insights at each other. An argument centered around the worth of either of these stances is, in the end, meaningless – all hot air and stiff breezes.
When we sit back and view, truly dissect and examine our practice and our Buddhist faith, whether it stems from a scholarly or an experiential background, the center of that practice is, in essence – compassion. Pure and simple. No more and no less. Yet this fact gets lost in dialogues of proper meditative practice and mindfulness excercises. We lose it in the commentaries of Zen figures long dead and gone, in ceremonies no longer significant to us. We sit and concern ourselves with posture or philosophy; books and sutras; chanting and bowing. But boil all of that away and what do we have….
…nothing if we forgot about compassion. Our study and our practice is an expression of our True Buddha-Nature; an expression of compassion. That is and always be the Buddhist drive. We can balance the sutra study and the meditation but if at the base of either there is no compassion then there is no Buddhism. There may be a quiet mind or a great understanding of philosophy and buddhist concepts but there is no Buddhism.
Knowledge itself is not a problem. It is in fact, essential to Zen. What is repudiated and denounced is the failure to put it to use.
Exactly. Knowledge (physical, mental or intuitive) is useless without the compassion that should accompany it. Without the understanding that individuals are suffering constantly in this world and we, as Buddhists, take it upon ourselves to aid in the alleviation of that suffering, we get lost and we go nowhere. We study and meditate in order to cease suffering – not to argue that our method is better than the guy’s next door. We do all this to help others…period. Without that it is just mind-candy and dead languages; armchair philosophy and bedside reading.
So what happens after we spend all that time gaining knowledge and staring at a wall? Someone comes to learn from us and what do we do? We grab all that knowledge and force it upon the person. We toss quotes and terms and postures and chants. That is not teaching. That is throwing information and hoping that some will get lucky and stick. A good teacher needs to approach a student and determine his/her ability, intent and drive. Then from that assessment we teach to the individual and not at him. That is compassionate teaching and that is Zen.
With those thoughts in mind try to focus how you can practice from day to day without implicitly stating that another teaching is incorrect or unbalanced…and that sometimes “skillful means” requires oyster shooters and grotesque amounts of wheat beer.