Zen and Pragmatism--A Reply (Comment and Disussion)
09/06/2012 02:10 (GMT+7)
Kích cỡ chữ:  Giảm Tăng

WHEN I READ Dr. Ames's able and stimulating
article,"Zen and Pragmatism,"(1) I regretted that I
had not made my points clear enough in my Zen
articles, but at the same time I was thankful for
having incited him to prepare such an illuminating
paper. I realize that I make many inconsistent
statements in my presentation of Zen, which
unfortunately cause my readers some trouble in
understanding Zen, In the following I will try to
give--in brief-as much light as I can on my views so
far made public. The one most-needed point in coming.
around to the Zen way of viewing reality is that,
negatively stated, Zen is where we cannot go any
further in our ordinary way of reasoning, and that,
positively, Zen is "pure subjectivity." "Pure
subjectivity" requites a great deal of explanation,
but I must be brief here.
When we have an experience, say,when I see a
flower and when I begin to talk about this perception
to others or to myself, the talk inevitably falls
into two pans: "this side" and "that side." '"That
side" or "the other side" refers to the flower, the
person to whom the talk is communicated, and what is
generally called an external world, "This side". is
the talker himself, that is, "I" Zen takes up this
"I" as the subject of its study. What is "I"? That
is,who is the self that is engaged in talking (or
questioning)? How does the talker come to know "me"
when I am the talker himself? How can I make myself
"him"? If I succeed, I am no more "I" but "he," and
"he" cannot be expected to know "me." As long as "I"
am the talker, "I" am talking about me not as myself
but as somebody who stands beside or opposite me. The
self is an ever-receding one, one who is forever
going away from the "self." The self can never be the
self-in-itself when the self is made the object of
the talk.
In other words, to talk or to question is an act,
and so the talker or questioner is the actor. As soon
as the actor begins to talk about himself, he,

(1) Philosophy East and West, IV, No. 1 (April,
1954), 19-33.


the actor, is no more himself-he turns into a
projection; he becomes a shadow of himself. The
talking is always about something, never the thing
itself. However much one may talk, the talking can
never exhaust the thing. However minutely and
precisely one may describe an apple or analyze it in
every possible way, chemically, physically,
botanically, dietetically, or even metaphysically,
the apple itself is never there in these descriptions
or analyses One must become the apple itself to know
what it is--knowing in its ordinary sense is not
To be more exact, perhaps, the self cannot be
understood when it is objectified, when it is set
up on the other side of experience and not on this
side. This is what I mean by "pure subjectivity." The
psychologists may talk about the self in terms of
structure, or Gestalt, or pattern of combination, or
something else, but all these terms never touch the
"self" itself. The self escapes from all these meshes
of conceptualization or objectification. But, for
this reason, we cannot declare "self" to be a
non-entity or a mere emptiness, for the self is
always asserting itself and demanding to be
recognized as such. This has been so ever since the
awakening of consciousness, which made an ancient
sage exclaim, "Know thyself!" The self has really an
unfathomable meaning, that is, the self can never
be objectively defined or verified. Anything subject
to objectification thereby limits itself and forever
ceases to be itself.
"I am that I am"(2)--whatever its original Hebrew
meaning may have been--is the fittest name for God.
It is the "I am" of "I am before Abraham was."(3)
Metaphysically, this corresponds to "Being is Being"
or, according to John Donne, "God is so
omni-present... that God is an angel in an angel, and
a stone in a scene, and a straw in a straw."(4) "I
am," or "I am that I am," or "a straw is a straw," or
a mountain is a mountain" is in my terminology pure
or absolute subjectivity. But we must remember that
as soon as this passes on to the plane of
intellection all turns into mete verbalism. Pure
subjectivity or subjectum is a person, not an
abstraction. There fore, it hears, it sees, it
grasps, it runs, it even gets angry, though it does
not forget smiling, too. It is the hands, feet, ears,
and eyes. When it is cold, it shivers; when hot, it
perspires. It sleeps and eats. It is Rinzai's "man of
no title." He is an altogether lively agent When a
monk asked, "What is the man of no title?" Rinzai
came down from the seat and, grasping the monk by the
throat, commanded, "Speak, speak! " The monk failed
to "speak" whereupon the Master, pushing him away,
declared, "What a dried-up dungscraper is this man of
no title!"

(3) Exodus 3:14.

(4) John 8:58.

(5) Sermon VII.


From the objective or "that-side" point of view,
Rinzai's action may seem altogether irrational and
unexplainable. But Zen is not there; Zen is on "this
side, " and does not want to be rational or
explainable. What it wants is to have us "get into
it" and be it and the actor himself. When this is
accomplishes, a certain state of consciousness arises
and what is known as satori takes place. From this
satori Zen builds up its philosophy. Whatever
objectivity or intellectualization or utilitarian
purposefulness there is in Zen, it all starts from
this satori experience. Where this is absent, we
inevitably get involved in the interpretation of the
"that-side" aspect of, for instance, Rinzai's
declaration of the "man of no title" and the
treatment he accorded to the questioning monk. The
"that-side" aspect is mere superficiality and never
gives us the inside or the "this-side" view of
reality. There is here a storehouse of infinite
richness, filled with all possibilities, as the
Buddhist would say, "endowed with values (gu.nas) as
numerous as the sands of the River Ganga." It is not
emptiness as is supposed by some Western critics of
Buddhism. If it is an emptiness, it is one filled
with abundance-it is fullness of things. As it is
full, it wants to express itself. An empty vessel
never overflows.
Kingyuu (Chin-niu) was one of the chief disciples
of Baso (Ma-tsu, d. 788). When the dinner hour came,
he carried the rice-holder up to the refectory and,
dancing and laughing, made the announcement, "O
bodhisattvas, come and eat!" This, it is recorded,
was kept up by the venerable elder for twenty gears.
What did he mean?
One of the commentators remarks: "What is the
idea of Kingyuu's acting in such an extraordinary
manner? If the dinner hour was to be announced, why
did he not, as they ordinarily do, strike the board
and beat the drum? What did he mean by carrying the
rice-vessel himself and performing strange antics?
Did he go insane? If he wanted to demonstrate Zen,
why did he not go up to the Dharma-hall and give his
sermons formally from the pulpit, probably striking
the chair or raising the hossu? What necessity was
there for him to resort to such an outlandish
"People nowadays fail to understand what the
ancient worthies had in their minds when they behaved
strangely. Did not the first patriarch make this
unmistakable declaration when he first came to this
country: 'A special transmission outside the
suutra-teaching which is no other than the unique
transmission of the seal of mind'? Kingyuu's upaaya
(expediency) , too, consists in making you see
directly into the meaning of things and in saying to
yourselves,'Yes, yes, this is it!' "(5)

(5) Yengo (Y乤n-wu, 1566-1642) , author of the
Hekigan-shu (Pi-yen-chi) ("Blue Rock


No doubt, Kingyuu's behavior came out of the
exuberance of his satori experience. When a monk
later asked a Master about Kingyuu's idea of "O
bodhisattvas, come and eat!" the Master answered, "It
is much like celebrating an auspicious event by
means of a feast." Still later, another Master
observes, "What auspicious event is to be
celebrated!" All these remarks point to an event
taking place on "this side." If they were transferred
to "the other side" for an intellectual
interpretation, they would fail to yield any fruitful
solution. Zen Masters always try to keep their eyes
inwardly on "this side," because it is hem that they
get into "the moment of living" (sheng-chi, ネ诀 ).
This was not all, however; there was something
more in Kingyuu's gesture. He was not only
self-expressive but communicative. Seccho of the
Sung Dynasty comments: "It is all tight, but them is
something in Kingyuu not altogether of good will."
(6) This is the Zen way of commenting on other
Masters generally. "Not of good will" is not to be
understood in its literal sense. "Not of good will"
means "good will," for Kingyuu intended to help those
hungry "bodhisattvas" awake to the meaning of
reality, for which they were searching. The "good
will" becomes "nor a good will" when them is any
unworthy motive behind it, for it vitiates everything
it touches. Seccho challenges Kingyuu somewhat
playfully, as if to say, "Are you really free from
motives unworthy of a Zen student!"
Seccho's versified comment on the whole
"case"(7) is given here in order to demonstrate how
Zen deals with matters of pure subjectivity.

Behind a mass of white clouds a hearty laugh he
Carried by both hands it is delivered up to
If one were like a golden-haired lion,
Even three thousand miles away, should
the crookedness of things be seen.

Is Kingyuu merely making the monks eat the rice? Or
is there something out of the ordinary besides chat!
If a man could really understand this procedure, he
would really be like a golden-haired lion, and would
not be waiting for Kingyuu to come to him
carrying the rice bowl and dancing about He would
know the whole business even before anything is at
all enacted. Then the show would not be worth even
the snapping of fingers. Therefore, the Masters are
never tired of advising us not to be looking for
reality in words or letters.
From these remarks, quoted at random from the
original Zen textbooks, we can see in what kind of
mental or spiritual atmosphere those Masters

(6) Hs乪h-tou, 980-1052.

(7) Hekigan-shu, Case 74.


are living and enjoying themselves. We will also be
able to observe, at least tentatively, that there is
a rich, field for study on "this side" of our everyday
experience. Even when we designate this field as the
field of pure experience, we cannot see the Zen
Masters t坱e-?t坱e.
Let us now proceed to see "this side," if
possible, from its negative aspect. For this purpose
I will quote another "case" from the Hekigan.(8) A
monk asked Baso (Ma-tsu): "Apart from every possible
predicate one can make of reality, will you kindly
tell me directly without any medium what reality is?"
This is a rather modern rendering; I have avoided
giving a literal translation of the original because
it contains some allusions to Zen tradition which
complicate the matter, and we are not at present
concerned with them. It is enough if we know where
the main point is, and this is that the monk is
moving on the other side of our everyday
consciousness or experience, that his standpoint is
one of objectivity or intellectualization, where
logic is the sovereign. The monk knows that if a man
made any kind of statement about ultimate reality he
would most decidedly meet the Master's opposition or
get a blow of his stick. Therefore, taking away the
weapon from the Master's hand which the latter is
most likely to use upon him, he demands that the
Master give him a direct, non-mediated, and most
concrete presentation of what goes beyond all
affirmation and negation. If this question were given
to a philosopher he would have to write a book
embodying all his highly abstract thoughts. If the
work were handed over to the monk, the monk would
very likely commit it to the fire and say: '"There is
still something left untouched in your work and I
want that." He may then extend his hand and keep up
his supplication, which is also his condemnation. As
long as we are on the other side we can never cease
our search for a satisfying answer.
How did Baso meet the dilemma proposed by the
monk? The monk was even ready to snap at him if he
showed any sign of moving this way or that,
negatively or positively. Baso was a perfect Zen
expert. He knew thoroughly where the monk stood,
because as long as the monk was wanting to "catch"
Baso, this very attitude was the weakest spot, so to
speak, on the monk's part. Baso nonchalantly blurted
out: "I don't feel well enough today to answer you.
You had better go to Chizo the elder and ask him."
Now the question is: Did Baso the Master really
feel tired at the moment? Or did he not feel like
arguing with the monk? Or was this daily triviality a
real answer to the monk's metaphysical question?
There is another series of question: Did the monk
really want to get an

(8) Ibid, Case 73.


answer from the Master in the way of information or
did he want to see how the Master would respond to
his most puzzling question? Was the monk in an
attitude of challenge, or merely in the noviciate's
frame of mind?
The matter is not so simple as it appears. Yengo,
one of the commentators, puts in his bit of
observation: "If I were Baso, I would, as soon as the
monk finishes his questioning, beat him hard on his
back with the stick and chase him right out of the
room and see if he came to a realization or not."
Yengo does not stop here, however, but goes on: "If
I, on the other hand, were the monk, I would, when
Base ends his talk, spread my seat-cloth before
him and make bows to him and see how the Master would
In actuality the monk did not proceed as Yengo
suggested. To all appearance he obediently went
to Chizo (Chih-tsang) the elder as directed by the
Master and asked him the same question as he did the
Master. Chizo said, "Why not ask the Master?" The
monk said, "It is the Master himself who sent me to
you." Thereupon Chizo told the monk, "I have a
headache today and am unable to answer you. I advise
you to go to Yekai (Hui-hai), our elder brother, and
ask him about it."
The monk, like an innocent child, went to Yekai
as told by Chizo and asked him the same question.
Yekai said, "As to that, I am unable to give you any
The monk now did not know what to do but to go
back to Baso the Master and report the whole
procedure to him. The Master did not make any special
comment, but simply said this: "The grey-haired Zo,
the dark-haired Kai."
What does all this mean? From the intellectual
point of view it does not make sense in any possible
way. It started with a highly metaphysical question
in regard to the nature of reality. The monk knew
that any proposition one can make about it would
never hit the mark, as it refuses to be caught up by
the hook of verbalism. But without appealing to
reason and language what way is left for human beings
to find reality? None of the consultants the monk
went to helped him, as far as he could see. He was
evidently like most of us whose efforts are to have
the problem solved on "the other side" of our daily
experience. What did those three Zen experts mean,
after all, by appearing to avoid giving some
reasonable, or coherent, or at least common-sense
answer to the poor monk who was earnestly in search
of the truth? To cap all those "apologies" or
"excuses" not to give the monk at least something
intelligible, we have the Master's final verdict
regarding the two elder's hair or head. Is this not
astounding? Who would


ever have expected in Zen to see such an anticlimax
to the all-seriousness of the monk's quest after the
ultimate reality?
When Baso the Master's final sentence is read in
English we may say it yields some meaning, though not
in connection with the monk's question. Now Yengo
tells us that "the dark-haired Kai and the
grey-haired Zo" is to be comprehended in the same
light as the following statement also made by Baso to
Ho, the lay devotee.(9) Ho once asked Baso: "What
kind of man is he who goes companionless?" This is
like asking about God, we might say, or about the
Absolute, because either goes without any companion,
has no mate to go with, is altogether free and
independent. Baso's answer was, "I will tell you when
you drink up in one draught the whole river of Sei
(Hsi)." In what possible relationship can this advice
stand to the hair-color of the two elders? As far as
"the other side" or the objectivity of things is
concerned, we find absolutely nothing between Baso's
two statements: the one about drinking up the whole
river and the other about the kind of hair the elders
have. How could they be connected? But Yengo insists
that one is to be read in the light of the other.
Yengo further advises us that if we wish to
understand Zen we must cut all the roots of
thinking(10) and look all by ourselves into the right
vein of-things(11) and then for the first time be at
home with ourselves. And again he will remark: "It is
like swinging the sword in the air: it does not
matter how far or how near it hits. Only let us take
hold of [reality] where there is clearness and
transparency on all sides." Where, let me ask, is
this clearness and transparency where we can come
face face with reality? It is no other than where
absolute emptiness ('suuyataa) is, which means the
limit of objectivity, where "the other side" can go
no further: this is where pure subjectivity reigns
supreme. And this is where the meaningless phrase,
"the dark-haired Kai and the grey-haired Zo," has
its full meaning.
Now let us listen to what Seccho has in his
versified commentary on this "case" on negativity:

Zoto byaku Kai-to koku!(12)
Even for the clear-eyed monks, difficult to
Horse the Master(13) treads over all the people
of the world;
Compared with him, Rinzai is not quite an
expert pickpocket.
Away from the four phrases and beyond one
hundred negations
[where do we go],
Heavens above, humans below, it is 'I' alone
who knows."

(9) 'P'ang Ch?shih, of the latter half of the
thirteenth century.

(10) 種  i-k坣.

(11) タń chang mai li.

(12) In Chinese: Tsang-t'on pal Hai-t'on bei!

(13) Ba (so) means " a horse.


An ancient Zen master says: "Don't ask me any
question, for the answer is where the question comes
from." You may go around with your question,
metaphysical or otherwise, among all the Buddhas of
the past,present, and future, and you will not get
any satisfactory answer, for it is you alone who
holds the key to your question. However far you may
go on "the other side," the realm of objectivity has
its limit, and when you come to it, the only thing
you can do is to make a leap over it. And the leap
will bring you back to where you started. "The other
side" is nowhere else but "this side." "Heavens
above, humans below, it is 'I' alone who knows." This
questioner, negator, talker, and writer-they all come
back to "I," whoever this may be. They have traveled
so many miles away from home--all in a dream, for
when awakened "I" finds itself at the same old place.
When negation after negation was carried in our
metaphysical quest for reality all that we discovered
was that there was nothing on "the other side" except
the negator himself. But the negator could not negate
himself, which would mean suicide, and this
self-killing is something a man as man cannot
execute, because what he thinks he has finished
killing is not himself but his conceptualized shadow,
which, like a phantom, always follows the real self.
As long as conceptualization goes on, there will
be no discovery of the real self. The self is to be
sought where it is cozily settled at home, perhaps
looking at the cucumbers or the beans, after a day's
work in his vegetable garden. So, when the monk
approached, he was really too tired to stare his
"intellectual" activities. Let the monk mumble the
"Zoto byaku Kai-to koku" for several times as if
it were a mystic phrase (dhaara.nii); his "self' may
be discovered laughing behind a mass of white clouds.
If Dr. Ames and other scholars who are interested
in Zen were able to shift once for all the position
on "the other side" of out daily experience and visit
"this side," where Zen has its abode, they would, I
am sure, understand all that I have so far tried to
elucidate, and see where my inconsistencies and
contradictions come from. I may have occasion again,
I hope, to elaborate more fully the subject which I
have rather summarily treated here.

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