Sunday, February 18, 2007

I know that if you have been a regular reader of this blog, you may be suspicious that I've gone off the deep end. "Hey, Doug's talking about religion! He wants to go into zen!" But, I'm not really interested in religion here, but in how the hands shape belief. Are our beliefs shaped by experience in our own hands or are they implanted or imposed through the will, direction and insistence of others? There is an interesting text from the zen tradition called the Hsin Hsin Ming that I have found influential in my own thoughts. An often quoted line is as follows:

The Great Way is neither easy nor difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

To state things more simply, "the devil is in the details." We take a thing apart for intellectual examination and promptly forget the whole of it and its greater significance. The worst of it comes when "heaven and earth" or the worlds of practicality and spirit are seen as divergent and separate from each other as is seemingly agreed upon by many modern religions.

There is another line in the Hsin Hsin Ming in which the reader is given a prescription for making the world whole.

To come directly into harmony with this reality just simply say when doubt arises, 'Not two.'
In this 'not two' nothing is separate, nothing is excluded.
No matter when or where, enlightenment means entering this truth.

Here, I am attempting in my own feeble way to explain the difference between zazen and saw zen. Zazen is built upon withdrawal from the world, retreat into spiritual meditation as distinct from the practical qualities of life. Saw zen is built upon the direct engagement in the world through the use of the hands in creating, making and serving. I know there are those who would point out that what I am describing are the two distinct yet traditional forms of Buddhism. If you are reading and want to interject, please feel free to leave a comment.

As I suggested in yesterday's post, this may be a slow process. Even one that will drive you from this blog for a short time. Don't forget to come back later. The table shown above is one I made of walnut in 1979 or 1980. It was made with through-wedged mortise and tenon joints and was designed to reflect my own interest in Japanese culture.

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