Author Topic: Just Seeing (Hagen)  (Read 1164 times)

Offline Dharmakara

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Just Seeing (Hagen)
« on: November 14, 2014, 01:43:30 pm »
excerpt from
"Buddhism Is Not What You Think" by Steve Hagen


I HAVE NEVER written a word before now. This is literally true. If, however, I announced this to most people, they would doubt my sanity. Or else they would hear it as one of those ostensibly zany, bewildering Zen statements.

In fact, however, such expressions aren't (and aren't meant to be) zany or bewildering at all.

To help people wake up, Zen teachers often use words and concepts to point to Reality, which, though it can be seen directly, is impossible to describe or conceptalize. As a result, they sometimes say seemingly contradictory things — silly things, ridiculous things.

These kinds of statements are easy to imitate. But they're also easy to misunderstand.

This is why Zen teachers often test each other's insight. Otherwise, it would seem that all you have to do to teach Zen is learn to rattle off a lot of outlandish, irrational statements. But true Zen teachers don't simply throw out idiotic statements. They're dead serious.

So in Zen we have a history of teachers checking their students' understanding — and checking out each others'. A typical encounter might run something like this:

It's late evening. The teacher says to a student, "Show me your Zen." (In other words, "Show me your understanding.")

The student leans near the teacher and turns on his lamp.

The teacher barks back disapprovingly, "Is that all you un-derstand?"

The student makes the perfect move by leaning over once again and turning off the lamp.

The teacher smiles or nods approvingly, knowing the stu-dent has demonstrated genuine insight.

This is a fairly typical exchange. Easy to imitate. But it's not that easy to trick a Zen master. Instead of nodding approval, the teacher might start prodding and probing. For instance, when you lean over to turn off the lamp, the teacher might ask, "Is the light on or off?" What will you say? (If you're reaching for the right response, you're already in trouble.)

Zen is about just seeing. If we know how to just see without adding any thought or calculation to what's seen, we'll not have any problem. When a Zen teacher tests someone, they're checking out their ability to just see (although ability is a misleading term, since all of us are already fully capable of seeing already).

Just seeing can be demonstrated in numberless ways. None of them, however, involves knowing, finding, or looking for the right answer. In fact, if you're thinking in terms of "the right answer," you're already off the mark. (Actually, if you're thinking at all, you're off the mark because you're conceptualizing, not seeing.)

What does it mean to just see?

Here's an experiment that might give you a backward sense of just seeing by showing how we usually approach the world with prepackaged notions, assumptions, expectations, concepts, and inclinations. The analogy isn't perfect, since it remains conceptual; nevertheless, you may get a taste of it.

First, relax and get comfortable. Breathe deeply for a moment or two, and let your mind calm. Now, look at the ink blotches on the next page. They depict something quite familiar to you. Just look at them for a while.

Recognize it? No? Look again.

If, after a minute or two, you haven't seen what the picture depicts, try rotating it ninety degrees to the right. Look some more. Don't try to figure anything out; there's nothing to be figured out here. Either you will see what you're looking at or you won't. When you do see, you won't have any doubts. If, after another moment or two, you're still stumped, try making the shape of the central white portion your main ob-ject of interest rather than the black blotches. Keep looking.


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