When everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful, there is already ugliness;
When everyone recognizes goodness as good,
there is already evil.
“To be” and “not to be” arise mutually;
Difficult and easy are mutually realized;
Long and short are mutually contrasted,
High and low are mutually posited; . . .
Before and after are in mutual sequence.

To see this is to see that good without evil is like up without down, and that to make an ideal of pursuing the good is like trying to get rid of the left by turning constantly to the right. One is therefore compelled to go round in circles.

The logic of this is so simple that one is tempted to think it oversimple. The temptation is all the stronger because it upsets the fondest illusion of the human mind, which is that in the course of time everything may be made better and better. For it is the general opinion that were this not possible the life of man would lack all meaning and incentive. The only alternative to a life of constant progress is felt to be a mere existence, static and dead, so joyless and inane that one might as well commit suicide. The very notion of this “only alternative” shows how firmly the mind is bound in a dalistic pattern, how hard it is to think in any other terms than good or bad, or a muddy mixture of the two.

Yet Zen is a liberation from this pattern, and its apparently dismal starting point is to understand the absurdity of choosing, of the whole feeling that life may be significantly improved by a constant selection of the “good.” One must start by “getting the feel” of relativity, and by knowing that life is not a situation from which there is anything to be grasped or gained–as if it were something which one approaches from outside, like a pie or a barrel of beer. To succeed is always to fail–in the sense that the more one succeeds in anything, the greater is the need to go on succeeding. To eat is to survive to be hungry.

Advertisements