Transcend discrimination of opposites
Discover total reality
And achieve detachment
This is true freedom.
Shinjingakudo – “Learning through the body and mind” Dogen Zenji (1200-1253)
Transcend discrimination of opposites is what I mean by include and embrace the opposites. Discover total reality in Big Heart Zen is what is meant by the Apex. And achieve detachment is what I mean by detaching from the opposites. This is true freedom.
Historically and traditionally Zen has adapted itself to its environment like water to its container. This is one of its most salient and beautiful characteristics. What makes Zen so unique is that its form is formless and its tradition is to go beyond tradition. Its masters are eccentric and non- traditional, and that is its tradition. Its fluidity and ability to manifest uniquely unencumbered offer some essential remedies for the difficulties and problems in the world today.
One such problem is the internal conflict arising within all major spiritual communities between the fundamentalists and the liberals. All the great religions are bogged down in fundamentalist dogma, unable to embrace or maintain a balance with liberalism. This is as true of Zen Buddhism and other practices of Buddhism that have taken root in the West as it is of all the other “ism’s.” It is an issue worldwide and no religion or culture can escape it. As you read this, there are lines being drawn between fundamentalists with ideas of what is right and wrong and good and evil and liberals who feel or believe that they are free from such rigid distinctions. Either view is limited and incomplete and one without the other destroys a relationship that respects the natural order of things. The fundamentalists cannot accept or include the liberals, and the liberals really do not accept the fundamentalists either.
The time has come for a third perspective which I call the “perspective of the visionary”, recognizing the inevitability of fundamentalism, or at least a fundamentalist perspective and liberalism, or at least a more liberal perspective. A visionary perspective sees clearly and without preference the pairs of interdependent opposites: yin is dependent on yang, Democrats are dependent on Republicans, Northerners on Southerners, Easterners on Westerners, men on women, women on men. It is the natural order of things that exist because of their position relative to their polar opposites.
Zen calls this natural order “co-dependent origination.” Everyone and everything is dependent on and connected to everyone and everything else. What I do effects everyone and everything else and what you do effects me and everyone else. The world is one.
The visionary perspective disappears as soon as we believe that we are some particular thing, or our lives are about something particular, and we disown or invalidate what we are not about or believe that we are not. So for example if I believe that I am a good person, I suppress or disown my badness. If I am an aware or conscious person, then I disown and make wrong the lack of awareness or consciousness. If I think I am an enlightened being then I make those whom I believe to be unenlightened inferior and less than me. If I believe that I am a good and ethical person then anyone who appears to me as unethical and bad I judge and make wrong.
So if I see myself as spiritual and otherworldly, then I put down worldly and so-called non- spiritual endeavors and actions. They become shadows of the spiritual person. In other words I disown everything that I consider to be not spiritual, like being greedy, competitive, an asshole, egocentric, boasting, selling oneself, undisciplined, sexual, and arrogant. Then what happens is my shadow, or those parts of myself that I consider to be unspiritual, are disowned. I then project these non-spiritual aspects on to other people and make them wrong, or even hate them for being so unspiritual. I divide the world into good and bad people, meaning spiritual like myself and non-spiritual like those ‘others’. I begin to equate success with being closer to the spiritual teacher or enlightened beings, or to having a position of some small degree of power, like getting to hand the teacher a cup of coffee or a tissue.
It is inevitable that we will distinguish between what we call right and wrong, good and bad. However, these are concepts, not absolute, fixed realities. They depend on our position or role, time and place as well as degree or amount. What is right one minute may not be right the next. Everything is dependent on circumstances. Fundamentalist views make these ideas of right and wrong into absolutes. This causes a great deal of narrow-mindedness and uptightness, a sense of me against you, a need to protect what I have worked so hard for and invested so much in being, and to prove to the world and to myself that I am right.
Infamous examples are the ultraconservatives who want to deny and pass laws against gay rights, while not wanting to admit to themselves that they are attracted to others of the same sex. This is very deep denial but it illustrates what I am trying to say about disowned aspects or voices.
The same things happen around money. Begging is seen as OK. So is borrowing, even when repayment is endlessly deferred or simply ignored. But earning money is seen as wrong. Some reputedly great spiritual people have had this disowned voice. The spiritual world is sometimes very hard on the marketplace world, accusing it of being inferior to the spiritual. This appears as a holier-than-thou attitude, disowning many of the qualities necessary for success in the world, with the result that ‘spiritual’ people lose the ability to compete and live in the world outside the monastic walls.
When we create this false dichotomy of right and wrong, we may even resort to terrible means to destroy the people we believe to be bad and evil. We then become the very evil that we hate, the evil materialists, the abusers. We hate that part of ourselves that we hate in others. It is all projected out there and not owned or embodied within.
When we embrace the opposites and go beyond them we are functioning from what I call the Apex perspective. By Apex I don’t mean a fixed place or position; on the contrary, because the Apex is not fixed or stuck it can hold the tension of opposites. We include the yin and yang or the fundamental and the liberal perspective and transcend them both. This is what I am also calling the visionary perspective, and what Doctors Hal and Sidra Stone call the “aware ego process.” Whatever name we call it, from the Apex we see that these two seemingly opposite perspectives are just that, perspectives. We can understand and appreciate each of them without being bound by either one. Then we can detach from both and declare our ownership and mastery of our own life.
Using Dogen Zenji’s phrase, this is what I call true freedom, which transcends free and unfree, which is freedom in the midst of suffering. To realize this visionary perspective is one of the fruits of Zen practice, which engages all the gifts and potential of our humanity: self-reflection, honesty, humility, courage, openness, flexibility, tolerance, compassion. In this way Zen, particularly mature and healthy Zen using Zen reflection or meditation, the Big Mind process and other skillful means and tools, can and does provide some of the remedies for problems we are facing today on a worldwide scale.
“There was one who was human and his humanity was thought to be his weakness but it turned out to be his greatest strength.”
Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach