“Things teach best when they’re dying.”
“Things teach best when they’re dying.”
“The Shorter Discourse on Emptiness concludes with this insight: to dwell in emptiness means to inhabit fully the embodied space of one’s sensory experience, but in a way that is no longer determined by one’s habitual reactivity. To dwell in such emptiness does not mean that one will no longer suffer. As long as one has a body and senses, one will be “prone to the anxiety” that comes with being a conscious, feeling creature made of flesh, bones, and blood. And this would have been just as true for Gotama as it is for us today.
Here, emptiness is not a truth—let alone an ultimate truth—that is to be understood correctly as a means to dispel ignorance and thereby attain enlightenment. For Gotama, the point is not to understand emptiness but to dwell in it. To dwell in emptiness brings us firmly down to earth and back to our bodies. It is a way of enabling us to open our eyes and see ordinary things as though for the first time. As the Buddha instructed his student Bahiya, to live in such a way means that “in the seen, there will be only the seen; in the heard, only the heard; in the sensed, only the sensed; in that of which I am conscious, only that of which I am conscious.
From the age of twenty-seven to the age of thirty-one, I continued my Buddhist monastic training in a Son (Zen) monastery in South Korea, where the sole meditation practice was to sit facing a wall for ten to twelve hours a day asking oneself: “What is this?” I have been guided by this impossible question ever since. It has led me away from a religious quest for ultimate truth and brought me back to a perplexed encounter with this contingent, poignant, and ambiguous world here and now. The Son tradition originated in seventh-century Tang China as a reaction against the overly metaphysical concerns of the established Buddhist schools. It sought to recover the simplicity of early Buddhism by following Gotama’s example of sitting still beneath a tree in an uncompromising engagement with the primordial questions of what it means to be born, get sick, grow old, and die. The Son masters realized that the very way in which you posed these questions would determine the kind of “enlightenment” you might gain. A famous aphorism encapsulates this realization:
Great doubt—great awakening;
Little doubt—little awakening;
No doubt—no awakening.
The quality of your “doubt”—of the questions you ask—is directly correlated to the quality of your insight. To ask such questions viscerally will engender a correspondingly visceral awakening. To pose them intellectually, with “little doubt,” will lead only to intellectual understanding. For those who are not stirred by existential questions at all, awakening is not even conceivable. Son practitioners rejected the metaphysical learning of scholar-monks not because they disagreed with their conclusions but because they disagreed with the way the scholars posed the questions in the first place. To practice Son means to ask these questions with the whole body, with “its 360 bones and joints and the 84,000 pores of one’s skin,” so that it becomes a “solid lump of doubt.” Moreover, the doubt needs to reach a critical mass, “like a red hot iron ball, which you have gulped down and which you try to vomit but cannot.
To sustain this kind of urgent perplexity entails learning how to remain in a balanced, focused, and inquiring frame of mind without succumbing to the seductive lure of “it is this” and “it is not that.” To pose a question with sincerity, you need to suspend all expectations as to what the answer might be. You need to rest in a condition of unknowing, vitally alert to the sheer mystery of being alive rather than dead. In this way, you cultivate a middle way between “it is” and “it is not,” affirmation and negation, being and nothingness. To tread this middle way in practice is like walking a tightrope: the path is constantly wobbling and shifting. We inhabit a linguistic realm where we cannot avoid using terms like “is” and “is not,” and a moral realm where we are bound to express preferences and make choices. The polarities embedded in human consciousness are useful, if not indispensable, in providing a framework to guide our course through life. They are like the pole carried by the tightrope walker that provides the crucial stability to take the next step. The point, therefore, is not to reject dualities in favor of a hypothetical “non-duality” but to learn to live with them more lightly, fluidly, and ironically. The danger of duality, against which the Buddha warned his followers, does not lie in oppositional thinking itself. Rather, it lies in how we use such thinking to reinforce and justify our egoism, cravings, fears, and hatreds.”
“Above, not a tile over his head;
Below, nowhere to stand.”
There is a stone water basin near the Zorokuan tearoom at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto. The water basin (chōzubachi, ⼿⽔鉢) is “provided so that in the roji [露地, garden] the person [host] who calls and the person called [guest] can together wash off the stains of worldly dust.” The center of the basin which holds the water is square, and the square is surrounded by four Chinese characters to which the square lends the character-root or radical for “mouth.” The four in clockwise sequence from north to west are 吾唯⾜知 (ware tada taru shiru) or “I alone know contentment.” […]
Just now I threw away everything into West Lake.
With whom can I share this clean feeling of release?”
“ Do you know the virtues gained from such practices as reading scriptures and invoking Buddha names?” It is vain to think that simply moving your tongue and raising your voice is meritorious as Buddhist service; to pretend it is the way to enlightenment is even further off.
As far as reading scriptures is concerned, the point is that the Buddha taught models of immediate and gradual practice, and if one understands them and practices according to the teaching, this will surely enable one to attain realisation. It is not a matter of vainly expending thought and assuming that is merit for attaining enlightenment.
Trying to reach the dharma by ignorantly making millions of verbal repetitions is like heading north to go south. It is also like someone trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Someone who reads passages in religious works while remaining in the dark about the path of spiritual training is someone who would pay a visit to a doctor and leave the prescription behind. What is to be gained from that? Keeping sound flowing incessantly from the mouth is like the springtime day-and-night croaking of a frog in a rice paddy: ultimately, this too produces no benefit.”
“Many people are awakened during a difficult period in their lives, when they see that living irresponsibly has been the cause of their suffering, and that by transforming their lifestyle they can bring an end to their suffering. Transformation is gradual, but once we see clearly the causes of our suffering, we can make the effort to change our behaviour and bring our suffering to an end. […]
The Buddha advised us to identify the kinds of nutriments that have been feeding our pain and then simply to stop ingesting them. We do our best, and we ask our brothers and sisters to help us. We can’t expect our difficulties to go away by themselves. We have to do certain things and not do other things. The moment we resolve to stop feeding our suffering, a path appears in front of us”
After evoking the radical nothingness and unthinkableness of my death, Bataille writes that “[t]o write is to go elsewhere. The bird who sings and the man who writes deliver themselves.” They deliver themselves to death in the going elsewhere and yet also attempt to escape death through the act of writing, the inscription of an always already absent presence. The one who will receive this writing is no longer a man who can be imagined (pissing and shitting);
I do not write for this world (surviving-intentionally-that world from which war has emerged), I write for a different world, a world without respect. I don’t desire to impose myself on it, I imagine myself being silent there, as if absent. The necessity of effacement to the point of transparency. I do not oppose real strengths or necessary connections: idealism alone (hypocrisy, lies) has the virtue to condemn the real world-to ignore its physical truth.
Bataille is caught here in his own paradox: how to reject idealism, which refuses the real world and its physical truth, while speaking to a world different from that one full of idealism, lies, and hypocrisy in which world war is inevitable (according to Bataille’s political analysis throughout the 1930s). Bataille’s strategy, like that of the mystics, is not to avoid the paradox, nor to attempt to resolve it, but to embrace it and force the reader to think it in all its contradiction. Only in this way, the text suggests, can the physical world be that other world to which Bataille speaks silence.
I am inhabited by a mania to speak, and a mania for exactitude. I imagine myself to be precise, capable, ambitious. I should have been silent and I spoke. I laugh at the fear of death: it keeps me awake! Battling against it (against fear and death). //
I write, I do not want to die.
For me, the words “I will be dead” aren’t breathable. My absence is the wind from outside. It is comical: pain is comical. I am, for my protection, in my room. But the tomb? already so near, the thought of it envelops me from head to toe. // “
” Like Friedrich Nietzsche, Bataille was disillusioned with the emancipatory aims of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century liberalism and sought a liberation beyond that promised by liberal modernity. The liberal world, according to Bataille, was the bourgeois, workaday world of modern individualism, a world that degrades man by rendering all of human activity subordinate to some end outside that activity itself. In this sense, modernity determined human life in terms of action governed by what Bataille called “project.” Project makes every moment of life servile by valuing it solely in relation to its usefulness in producing a desired end. It finds an ally or mirror, according to Bataille, in the forms of knowledge and rationality promoted by Hegelian systematic philosophy.
The Hegelian spirit, which for Bataille expressed the spirit of modernity, belongs therefore to a sad, servile, and serious culture, a culture that is always on the job, one that has no time for errant moments of laughter, tears, drunkenness, or ecstasy. These nonproductive instances of useless nonknowledge suppressed by the workaday logic of the workaday world are indices pointing to modernity’s lack of lack, its lack of the meaningless amid the fullness and completion of meaning achieved by the modern world. There is, in the modern world, no rose that grows without why.”