Sunday, 25 December 2016


73. The Zen school of Buddhism tends to get distinguished from other Buddhist traditions by its claim that it is 'a special transmission outside the sutras', a transmission that has 'no dependence upon words and letters'. Emphasis on these principles has merit when it represents a healthy scepticism with regard to an intellectual inquiry that is not supported by an authentic spiritual practice. When a sceptical emphasis changes into an all out anti-intellectualism that would insist that all sutra study is utterly useless, it should give us pause. Historians have named a number of well known masters from the late T'ang era who, they say, adopted an extreme anti-intellectualist stance. However, to include such a figure as Tokusan (Te-shan) among these seems to be unjust. Tokusan was a scripture scholar and a recognised expert on the Diamond Sutra. Hearing of the Zen movement, he judged it to be heretical and decided to do what he could to stamp it out. It was only when he found himself unable to meet the challenge of a tea-lady regarding what the Diamond Sutra says about 'mind' that his determination to attack Zen began to falter. Following this he had an extended interview with Zen Master Ryutan (Lung-t'an) at the conclusion of which he came to a sudden Enlightenment-Realisation. Soon thereafter he burnt his sutras and scholarly notes. His sutra burning was not the act of a fanatic. Rather, it gave expression to his recognition that he had come to the end of an exhaustive intellectual inquiry. He had, as it were, climbed Wittgenstein's ladder and then, in order to climb up and beyond it, he had to kick it away. Only thus could he enter into and come to relish the silence of the Buddha.

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