Gai Eaton & The Art Of Zen

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Mount Fuji by Sarah Moate

By The Last Vampire

Gai Eaton, in his book ‘The Richest Vein’ in the chapter on the methods employed by the Zen masters to gain insight into the ‘Real’, includes this beautiful passage about the limits of conventional learning:

”The aim of all serious study is not to accumulate knowledge as an end in itself, but to see learning transformed into wisdom. But there is a gulf between the two: learning may be ‘possessed; wisdom may never be ‘possessed’…Learning is a filing cabinet which has it’s index, it’s know resources and it’s known limitations. Neither the resources nor the limitations of wisdom may be calculated. It’s index is not in our keeping; it has a will, even a life of it’s own; we cannot hold onto it, but can only pray to be touched by it, as by an instantaneous and divinely given insight. The agony of this transformation, then lies in the fact that what was known and certain must be exchanged for something unknown and eternally uncertain to which no man has a claim by right. A certain unwillingness to make this exchange is natural; one is not always ready to give up the ‘bird in the hand’. Hence the Zen strictures against learning…

Permanence and eternity are opposites. The confusion of these two is the death of wisdom. Thought cleaves to what seems to be permanent, and it suffers the condemnation of all relative permanence. Flesh is closer to eternity than is bone; feeling is closer than is flesh; and the evanescent moments of delight and vision are closest of all.

What injustice! – the learned complain – that a drunkard, a laughing girl or a drowsy old man may, by grace, come closer to this mystery than all those philosophers who climb the ladder to this mystery rung by rung and would, if they were made immortal, still be climbing at the end of time.’

On an Islamic basis, I think the Zen masters have a point; for is it not the case that ANYONE can know God (who the Zen Buddhists seem to have called the ‘Real’, though even the Chinese Muslims, I believe, refer to Allah as ‘The Real’ in Chinese script), even the drunkard and the ‘drowsy old man’? How then is this the case if it is only through ‘learning’ that ‘the truth’ can be known? Is this not a mistake common to both scientists and some religious scholars? Did not Al Ghazzali apprehend something similar, that after learning there comes a higher stage?

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