Zen stories: The Highest Truth

Anna Ruiz sends the following Zen story:

The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism. “What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.

“Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.

“If there is no holiness,” the emperor said, “then who or what are you?”

“I do not know,” the master replied.

p.s. Click the word emptiness to see what matters.

2 thoughts on “Zen stories: The Highest Truth

  1. Michael Lommel

    I’m a collector of zen stories myself. Thought this could be relevant also: On self-emptying awareness from Living Nonduality by Robert Wolfe which my publishing house, Karina Library, just published (“Dzochen” = “Zen”).

    “Self-Emptying Awareness”

    Persistently throughout recorded history, adepts have reported an ultimate meditative state. In Dzochen, it is characterized as “empty awareness”, the “natural state”. The meditator has evaporated; consequently, “meditation” is not what is occurring. There is “attending” to presence, as presence, but without the involvement or engagement of an entity as either observer or observed. Be-ing, without “being”, is perhaps all that can be said of it. Any description of it comes afterward, like trying to recall the memory of a dream. The thinker not being involved, thought is not involved: non-awareness of any thing, including discursive, linear thought; or awareness without a center of awareness. Yet the bodily processes continue to function non-consciously. And awareness returns eventually, of its own accord, to the organism that is in attendance of, or present for, it.

    This empty awareness is, some say, our natural state in our deepest, comatose cycle of sleep. The meditative state described above is the bringing of this natural state into the waking experience.

    It is also suggested that this is our condition of awareness in the womb, and for an indefinite period after emergence from the womb, before the development of verbal constructs (that we know as thought) and self identification.

    Though it may be a natural condition, prior to being conditioned, it is not a functional condition, in the sense of providing for the activities of bodily development. For this purpose, linear, discursive thought is a super-imposition which serves to provide the vehicle for the maintenance of the fundamental, natural state.

    The basic condition (of empty awareness) is non-linear, non-conceptual, unparticularized. The ancillary or auxiliary condition is limited, separative and discriminatory; what we call the cognitive faculty.

    Experiencing the ultimate meditative state, empty awareness, serves to make unmistakably clear how every single thought or conception is an intrusion on a trouble-free, ever-present, uncomplicated awareness.

    Yet, from the standpoint of continual physical survival, the machinations of the human mind are a requisite. Consider the role that the mind plays in the propagation of the species.

    The mind and its thoughts are not in opposition to the natural state. Unconditional awareness is complemented by conditional awareness. Were it not for the latter, we could not know what we know of the former.

    But the natural state is our pre-existing state. It is also a reasonable conjecture that this will pertain as our ultimate state, the condition we “return” to when the organism is no longer engaged in the activities of physical survival.

    Whether or not we, as conscious beings, emerge out of—and exit into—the boundless presence of the empty, natural state, the significance of the ultimate meditative state is that it tells us something crucial about our self.

    The “you” is revealed to be a conceived, selective thought, an artifice of the mind configured to the concerns of physical survival. However, it is not merely a fleeting thought among countless musings. It is a pivotal, critically-central thought, the thought to which every other of our thought/actions pay homage. It is, furthermore, the exclusive distinction which transposes our untroubled awareness of awareness to an awareness of disparate, conflicting “things”, that we counterpose as “me” and “not-me”. The I-dominated thought process is, though not inimical, the antithesis of empty awareness.

    Fortunately, we have the capacity to realize the utterly superficial nature of our self conception. We each know, if only from our experience in deep sleep, that our most fundamental state of presence is one of empty, untroubled awareness. It is evident that it is upon this indiscriminate consciousness that each of our waking thoughts disport, to dissolve again in that night’s mindless slumber.

    Knowing that the ego-I is an insubstantial thought, no less spectral than any other thought, we can be conscious of the ego-I, rather than being conscious as the ego-I.

    Knowing what our basic, natural, prevailing nature is, we can reorient our attention away from the importance of the ephemeral I-thought and its attendant self-promoting constructs.

    This is what meditation concerns itself with, in any case, whether or not one pursues it to its ultimate end—awareness which empties itself of itself.

    From Living Nonduality, p.285.

    (The book is released under a Creative Commons license which makes it available for quoting without copyright issues in noncommercial contexts…)


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