We noted earlier that the “natural light” is not the light of reason but the light of all things. What is here called “spiritual light” does not mean the light of the “soul” or the “spirit” in the ordinary sense of those words. It is rather a “samādhi of the Storehouse of the Great Light” out of which the light of all things (namely, the being itself of all things) is coming to our self in itself is the original and most elemental “middle,” we are pointing to nothing other than just this.
Nishitani Keiji, Religion and Nothingness
free from all representation
only to be built back up again
from the ground, upwards
I discovered that is is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color— something which exists before all forms and colors appear. This is a very important point. No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self-centered idea. You strive for a perfect faith in order to save yourself. But it will take time to attain such a perfect faith. You will be incolved in an idealistic practice. In constantly seeking to actualize your ideal, you will have no time for composure. But if you are always prepared for accepting everything we see as something appearing from nothing, knowing that there is some reason why a phenomenal existence of such and such form and color appears, then at that moment you will have perfect composure.
-Shunryu Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
When you are practicing zazen, do not try to stop your thinking. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by it. Do no be bothered by anything.
-Shunryu Suzuki Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Keiji Nishitani is one of the many teachers who has pointed to the experience of Zen. However, although Nishitani’s philosophy primarily concerns the experience of Zen (or as he calls it, the standpoint of śūnyatā), his position is much more subtle than that. With a deep understanding of both Western philosophy and Zen, Nishitani addresses some of the major philosophical problems of the time in his seminal work Religion and Nothingness. Nishitani is deeply concerned with the creeping nihilism found within the 20th-century person. Nishitani attributes the rise of nihilism to the failed attempts at realism through representation. These failed attempts, Nishitani argues, do not give us access to the “thing-in-itself.” Without the “thing-in-itself,” Nishitani claims that the world becomes impersonal, devoid of life, and meaningless. In an attempt to overcome nihilism, Nishitani argues that from the “standpoint of śūnyatā,” the “thing-in-itself” (jitai) is realized. The “standpoint of śūnyatā” is concerned with the Buddhist notion of emptiness, but this does not mean that the concept is neither affirmative nor is it a realist position. Nishitani presents a form of realism that is no doubt strange but his position is a form of realism nonetheless. Nishitani replaces realism through representation with realism through realization (Nishitani, 1983). While the representational mode of thought “is a type of thinking that assumes a correspondence between appearance and reality and is supported by a metaphysical edifice” (Olson, 2000, p.22), the “standpoint of śūnyatā” is a sort of unconditioned thinking that realizes the real.
Alan Watts, the British philosopher who played a large role in the popularization of Zen in the West, argues, “Zen is above all an experience” (Watts, 1957, p. 15). Watts stresses that Zen is:
nonverbal in character, which is simply inaccessible to the purely literary and scholarly approach. To know what Zen is, and especially what it is not, there is no alternative but to practice it, to experiment with it in the concrete so as to discover the meaning which underlies the words (Watts, 1957, p. 15).
Zen, at least according to Watts (and I think he is right to suggest), is the sort of thing that cannot be grasped through words nor through the intellect itself. For these reasons, I do not intend to pretend that I know, nor do I claim access to, the experience that is Zen. Although this initially sounds non-committal, like any experience, a direction can be given, or a finger can be pointed, towards it. Moreover, due to the experiential nature of Zen, it may be easy to dismiss as a vacuous metaphysical claim. This sort of doubt, however, is easy to address. As the Buddha (supposedly) proclaimed in an address to the people of Kosala (Kālāmas):
‘Yes, Kālāmas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kālāmas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Do not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher.’ But, O Kālāmas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (askusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them.’ (Rahula, 1974, p. 2-3)
In a word, the discourse and teachings of Buddhism, specifically Zen, is not necessarily a doctrine, dogma, or a series of empty metaphysical claims. Neither is the experience of Zen a fideism, that is, an acceptance of some given belief based solely on faith. These suggestions are, rather, a way of pointing at a certain sort of experience that can be had in the world. The truth of Zen is found only in its practice. The burden, then, of either affirming or denying the truths presumably found under the suggestions of teachers such as Watts or the Buddha, relies on an individual’s actual doing. In other words, no matter how rigorous I am in my argumentation, and no matter how factual my evidence is, I am never able to represent any given experience as the experience itself.
clouds very high look
not one word helped them get up there
-Ikkyu Crow with No Mouth