Working with Contradiction

by tendo zenji

Pei Xiu asked, “What is Buddha?”

The master replied, “The mind is buddha. No-mind is the Way. If you neither arouse your mind nor allow yourself to think in terms of such mental conceptions as existence and nonexistence, long and short, self and others, and subject and object, then the mind is originally buddha and buddha is originally the mind.”
-Ch’an Master Huangbo, from A Bird in Flight Leaves No Trace, p. 127

Because all things arise from the generative emptiness that is fundamental reality, our experience is rife with contradictions. This and That are simultaneously Not-This and Not-That and bear no fundamental separation. ‘Mind is Buddha‘ and ‘No Mind, No Buddha‘ can both be a reflection of reality depending on circumstance.  We can be asked to examine something from one view as absolute reality and then examine its opposite as also simply another aspect of this reality.  For where can anything arise but from the generative ground of fundamental reality? All of the dualities, contradictory thoughts, paradoxical views, all are contained within true nature.

Working with contradiction is a way to get past our discriminating, conceptual mind. Deeply engaging with something, a word, a view, a fundamental question and following it down to its essential emptiness can lead to insight.  Then contemplating its opposite to the same place can open to a deeper insight. Working with contradictory statements can efficiently reveal this inherent emptiness, that ultimately there is no there, there.

Koan’s try to “cut off the mind road.” They try to tease mind outside of thought and explanation, and so, to return consciousness to silence and the more immediate experience possible to empty-mind. That empty-mind precludes the distancing of things as object. Like meditation, Koan’s establish mind in a relation of mirror-like immediacy, allowing an immediate experience of landscape’s ten thousand things in and of themselves, an elemental mystery. And that mirrorlike immediacy reveals that we are ourselves wholly a part of that elemental mystery.”
-David Hinton, No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-Men Kuan,, p. xxi

Working with Gong’an (Jp. Koan) or Huatou (Jp. Wato) is a formalized practice of this type of work. But we can work with the contradiction of our lives, of the deep questions of ‘who am I, really?’ or ‘what is this?’  When dualities arise we push deeper into them, see both views as empty and ultimately seamless. For more on this topic please see the Dharma Talk below the fold.

May 3rd, 2020 Zazenkai Dharma Talk from Tahoma Zen Monastery. 


A Bird in Flight Leaves No Trace: The Zen Teaching of Huangbo with a Modern Commentary
Commentary by Seon Master Subul,
Translated by Robert Buswell jr. and Seong-uk Kim
Wisdom Publications (April 30, 2019)
ISBN-10: 1614295301

No-Gate Gateway: The Original Wu-Men Kuan,
by David Hinton
Shambhala (February 27, 2018)
ISBN-10: 161180437X