Commentary by Gendo
“The object is an object for the subject, The subject is a subject for the object. Know that the relativity of the two rests ultimately on one emptiness.” (Shinjinmei, poem of the third ancestor of Zen in China)
We find ourselves in a remarkable nexus of events: the celebration of Martin Luther King’s life and sacrifice for racial justice in our country, mob attacks in the name of white supremecy on this nation’s capital, and the election of new president promising unity.
The United States was established in pluralism, a union of diverse states, governed by opposing parties. Yet implicit in union is shared purpose. As children in school we chanted allegence to “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all”. What is happening to that nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? The national news is a litany of insurrection and division, violence, disease, social isolation and financial hardship.
The advice of our wisdom traditions is to look inside. Martin Luther King’s advice was to look inside. He said: “I must be measured by my soul; the mind is a standard of the person.”
The Buddhist advice is to wakeup to our own true nature. Dogen, the Japanese Zen teacher and founder of Soto Zen said: “To study Zen is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be illuminated by the ten thousand things [everything]. To be illuminated by the ten thousand things is to remove the barrier between self and other…” In other words, opinion without the humility of common purpose, makes useful debate impossible, makes one nation impossible.
Buddhist practice (Zen) teaches that the fundamental divisiveness is the “self” and its preoccupations, the self that divides the world into subject and object, in defense of its own position, according to its own preferences.
Originally, there is no separation between subject and object; like hearing the song of a bird in the early morning, a moment empty of thought, empty of self awareness , empty of “other” awareness. Zen describes such a moment as the meeting of subject and object in one emptiness, empty of ‘self’ and ‘other.’
Very quickly, subject and object break apart. Very quickly, sound (object) and a prior moment of silence (subject) separate. It is taught that ‘self’ is born in that space between subject and object, the ‘self’ that discriminates one from the other.
By analogy, lovers meet and then separate and the child of their union is born. The self is born that has as its contents, as its experience, a small part of both subject and object, discriminating one from the other. This is the ‘self’ that forms an idea and the words “Ah, a bird sings!”
Zen explains that, with the birth of the self, subject and object, having given up part of themselves, are now diminished. The situation returns to completion with the eventual dissolution of self and meeting of subject and object in one emptiness.
All conscious experience is like this. All objects of awareness arise from dualism, arise from a human mind that separates mother and father, giving rise to the born self that discriminates one from the other. In doing so, the self affirms its own situation, affirms what it likes as opposed to what it dislikes.
Yet, the whole picture, the true nature of the situation is union, one emptiness, subject and object together, empty of distinctions between self and other, what we call ‘true’ or ‘selfless’ love. To only and unconditionally affirm ‘self’ and its likes versus its dislikes is what Buddhist tradition calls ignorance, ignorance of the whole picture, ignorance regarding how the self got here and where it is going, ignorance that is the root source of “greed, anger and delusion,” poisoning the wisdom that knows”one emptiness;” one nation, indivisible.
Selfless love, “one emptiness,” is the fundamental condition; hidden to the self that objectifies God or truth, because objectification of the “other” is always centered on self and its preferences. But by awakening to interdependence, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” becomes possible.
We have to stand up for our beliefs, whether Democrat or Republican or something else. But without the humility of common purpose, useful debate becomes war, one nation becomes divided. The truth of interdependence, of true love, is the power of non-violent protest. Martin Luther King in reference to non-violent Black protestors in the early 60”s said at Dartmouth College in 1962:
“They have been able to say, in substance, that they stood up against the unjust system: “We will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We can not in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much as a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. And so throw us in jail; we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children and we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half dead and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit morally, culturally, or otherwise for integration and we will still love you. Be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”