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LAUGHING, Continued: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Don’t Ask

“‘Itself’ cannot be named or said. The whole method is knowing how to fly.” -- T’IEN T’UNG

WANG-SUN SAID: “Noticing, mirroring and stretching are details for the mediocre and the inferior. If you add to this mounting a fancy chair and sporting demon eyes, don’t be surprised if a bystander who does not agree comes forward.”

His point, as Thomas Cleary explains in "Kensho: The Heart of Zen," is that erudition is a distraction. (And worse, it’s a distraction that ensnares others.) Really, there is nothing that should be said: Being so is only understood by being so.

I asked the panel to speculate if there is laughter in Nirvana. David observes:

“To my perception this question fits squarely into the category of ‘useless speculations’ that the Buddha recommended we don't spend our time on. ...[P]lease refer to Episode 22 of Dharma The Cat -- it's titled, ‘Dont Ask!’

“You really want to know if there is laughter in Nirvana? Okay, ask yourself two questions: 1) If the answer to your above question were 'yes,' what would you do with that information, and 2) If the answer to the above question were 'no,' what would you do with that information?”

A broader and more-worrisome question then occurs: Is the pursuit of gaining an understanding of humor just time taken from action (and non-action) that would lead to enlightenment?

Hui-neng is said not to have wanted his words to survive him. He believed in ‘direct seeing.’ Yet it is curiously useful to have Hui-neng’s words in the Platform Sutra with us today to tell us about ‘direct seeing’ -- and the bases for his insights. [It seems hard for any Buddhist to know beforehand what books or teachings to do without! Must we have the courage to be like Layman P’ang, who is said to have put all his belongs into a boat and then set it adrift?]

In David’s “Don’t Ask!” cartoon, the question that is an example of useless speculation is “Does a dog have buddha-nature?” The decision of using that particular question in the cartoon creates a complication, since it is a Zen koan that has utility as a tool to achieve enlightenment. Ch’an Master Joshu was enlightened by delving into the question, and was inspired to write a powerful -- and funny -- poem (or bit of doggerel):

Mu, mu, mu, mu, mu,
mu, mu, mu, mu.
Mu, mu, mu, mu, mu,
mu, mu, mu, mu.

Any translation of Joshu’s words is problematic, but a current-day equivalent of the poem can be heard in a movie now in theatres, “Being John Malkovich.” This modern version is ‘recited’ when Malkovich goes into the portal of his own Mind, and runs something like this:

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich,
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich,
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.

So ... does a dog have buddha-nature!? Joshu’s ‘mu’ is often said to mean that he rejected the question as one that can be dealt with rationally. But that is not to say that he was sorry the question was asked!

Does John Malkovich, the puppet well-rigged, have buddha-nature? Mu.

One at Play

“Countin’ flowers on the wall. It don’t bother me at all/ Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one/ Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangeroo/ Don’t tell me I’ve nothin to do.” -- OLD STATLER BROS. SONG

THE SWEDENBORGIAN philosopher Wilson Van Dusen wrote in The Natural Depth in Man, “The purpose of creation is that the One playfully experience all its possibilities, so to speak, just to pass the time. Each individual is a possibility that leads back to the One.”

Scholar, writer and zenyk Ken Wilber in an interview in Pathways Magazine, titled “A Ticket to Athens” [reprinted at the Shambhala Publishers website], said much the same, in an elaborate answer to this question: “Why does Spirit bother to manifest at all, especially when that manifestation is necessarily painful and requires that It become amnesiac to Its true identity? Why does God incarnate?”

He said, “Here you are, the One and Only, the Alone and the Infinite. What are you going to do next? You bathe in your own glory for all eternity, you bask in your own delight for ages upon ages, and then what? Sooner or later, you might decide that it would be fun -- just fun -- to pretend that you were not you. I mean, what else are you going to do? What else can you do?”

He went on to say, “[it] is exactly the core of the answer given by the mystics the world over. If you are the One, and -- out of sheer exuberance, plenitude, superabundance -- you want to play, to rejoice, to have fun, then you must first, manifest the Many, and then second, forget it is you who are the Many. ...”

Perhaps, then, the ultimate cosmic joke is that we are here to laugh at our own ultimate cosmic joke. Like a troup of storytellers from the Decameron or Canterbury, we journey a pathway home, laughing at our strangly precious foibles and follies.

Tom Armstrong lives in San Francisco where he earns his bread as an accountant. He is a rogue Buddhist who is also the webmaster of the currently indisposed Zen Unbound, an ezine about mystical Zen and popular culture.

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