Green Koans Case 36: P'ang Splits Wood

Clark Strand

Chop wood

CASE #36:    P’ang Splits Wood

Layman P’ang wrote:

My daily activities are not unusual,
I’m just naturally in harmony with them.
Grasping nothing, discarding nothing.
In every place there’s no hindrance, no conflict.
My supernatural power and marvelous activity:
Drawing water and chopping wood.

Layman P’ang     P’ang Yun (“Lofty Interior”) was born around 740 and died in 811 C.E. A Ch’an devotee, he traveled with his daughter Ling-chao to various T’ang era monasteries honing his understanding with the most famous masters of the day. Repeatedly offered dharma transmission, he refused in each case, preferring the life of a layman instead. In China he is sometimes regarded as the reincarnation of the Buddha’s most famous lay disciple, Vimalakirti.

Grasping nothing…no conflict    May be a reference to the Heart Sutra. The relevant lines read:

Nothing can increase, nothing can decrease. Hence, in sunyata, no form, no feeling, no thought, no volition, no consciousness…. No suffering, no craving, no extinction, no path, no wisdom, no attainment. Indeed, there is nothing to be obtained. The Bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita with no hindrance in the mind. No hindrance, therefore no fear.

Drawing water…chopping wood    The expression subsequently became popular in Ch’an Buddhism, especially among practitioners called chu-shih, those who rejected the formality of established religious institutions, preferring the flexibilities of lay life and the freedom to study with masters from various schools.


“Drawing water, chopping wood.” Arguably, today these are nothing more than a kind of Zen cliché—a way of hiding from the reality P’ang called “daily activity,” rather than a way of living in the midst of it.

This must be what Derrick Jensen had in mind when, on the opening page of his environmental masterpiece Endgame: Resistance, he writes disdainfully of a so-called “American Buddhist activist” who said, “What I do for peace and justice is split wood.” Were that really true, he’d have chosen his own words instead of stealing P’ang’s. Jensen, who comes by his dharma honestly—from the dirt up, rather than the head down—wasn’t having any of it:

War has long since been declared and is being waged against the world, and a refusal to acknowledge this war does not mean it’s not happening. That American Buddhist can split all the wood he wants, and it’s not going to save a single species.


There’s doing nothing,
And then there’s doing nothing.
One blade releases
The energies of the Earth,
The other rusts in a stump.

Find all the Green Koans here.

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Dominic Gomez's picture

"My daily activities are not unusual...My supernatural power and marvelous activity: Drawing water and chopping wood."

The late Jeet Kune Do master Bruce Lee is reputed to have said that when he did not know kung fu, a kick was just a kick. When he began learning kung fu, a kick became much more than just a kick. And when he finally mastered kung fu, a kick was, once again, just a kick. But my, oh my! WHAT a kick!

Anreal's picture

There is exactly the same saying regarding enlightenment ...

"Before enlightenment, mountains are just mountains.
During enlightenment mountains are no longer mountains.
After enlightenment, mountains are mountains again."


ClarkStrand's picture

I think Dominic is having some fun here, Anreal. In my experience, he's about as literate as they come, Buddhistically speaking. He just loves pop culture.

Anreal's picture

Didn't think I was alluding to anything other ... :)

ClarkStrand's picture

Thanks, Anreal. The more the merrier.

ClarkStrand's picture

Before moving on to the next Green Koan, I thought I'd just post one last thought, this one concerning what I'd call the middle way between stoicism and activism where species survival (including our own) is concerned. It goes back to a little formula I started using a couple of years back, which I've taken to calling The Napkin Test, because on more than a few occasions I've found myself writing it on a napkin over lunch and sliding it across the table to...a Zen master, a Harvard theologian, a Pure Land Buddhist scholar, the former CEO of a finance corporation...the list goes on and on.

I call it the Napkin "Test" because one of two things tends to happen when I slide it across the table. Either the person on the other side becomes animated and enthusiastic about explaining how it makes sense of much of their experience (as happened with all of the above except the Pure Land Buddhist scholar), or they get up and walk away--if not literally, then by tuning out anything further that is said during our meeting. Among the former, I now count many good new friends. As to the latter, I certainly bear them no ill will. There just isn't much basis for further conversation.

The formula goes like this:

t/e = 1

Were "t" is the value of theology--interpreted very broadly to include all rituals, beliefs, ideas, and ideals of any given human culture (what used to be theology plain and simple, but which now finds expression in an incredibly diverse array of cultural ideologies, forms, and norms)--and "e" represents the planetary ecology, Nature, or simply the Earth. The basic idea here is that these two values must remain equal in order to prevent our destruction of the planet and/or of ourselves.

The two possibilities for pathology here are:

t > e This has been the trend since the dawn of agriculture, whereby we human beings have tended to become a law unto ourselves, replacing natural selection with human selection, giving up our niche in Nature in favor of making all of Nature our niche, spreading human monoculture across as much of the Earth as we can, with the sad results and the gloomy ecological future we see now.

t < e This is the approach whereby we throw up our hands or throw in the towel. It says that we are somehow less than Nature. That if we can't have it our own way, we won't play. The truth here seems to be--as in 12 Step recovery (and this, by the way, is why I have adopted that model)--that the moment we turn our will and our lives over to a Power greater than ourselves (in this case Earth), it works on our behalf. The problem all along has been our denial of the Earth's claims and its reality.

My next Green Bodhisattva column addresses this idea more thoroughly, albeit without introducing the formula. At one point, it quotes Thomas Berry's disciple Albert LaChance, whose book Cultural Addiction, published in 1991, ranks up there with Silent Spring and a few others as one of the truly prophetic works of modern ecological writing. At one point very early on in that book he writes about how "unreal" the Earth is to us. Here's one short passage:

<< If we were true Materialists, we would care about materials. Our very first concern in all decisions, individual or collective, would be the Mater-ials of the planet—the soils, the waters, and the air. The sad fact is that we care little for the Mater-ials because we care little for Mater Earth.…The name of the addiction that is killing the Earth is consumerism. >>

In other words, we see the world as subordinate to our wishes and desires (even to our spiritual wishes and desires) and therefore view it as somehow less real than we are. This makes it very easy to drift off into that t > e wonderland whereby we can imagine such bizarre concepts as the Christian rapture, interplanetary migrations, or even what one commentator humorously referred to as "the rapture of the geeks" (uploading our consciousness into computers which, supposedly, can live forever in some inorganic digital realm). These ideas are only slightly less pathological or unrealistic than a mind-only approach to reality.

For those who want to read a really good portrait of this t > e approach to human culture and human history, go here for an essay by Jeremy Lent, the former finance CEO I mentioned earlier. It's well worth the read.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Looking forward to that next Green Bodhisattva column, Clark. What link should I look for on the Tricycle site?

ClarkStrand's picture

The second one is up, Dominic. But I think you may have already seen that one. The third won't post until the next issue goes to press, which isn't for a couple of months yet.

Anreal's picture

Sho you ALMOST had me very happy and impressed, which I still am for the most part, bar for two things.

1. The formula really needs no T ... and you could quite simply just make it an 'h' for human. lol

2. The fact that you necessarily put the visionary and mystical aspects of reality in direct opposition to 'ecological realism'. Green Buddhism is clearly your thing, which is great and I find most of your arguments stimulating.
BUT to outright group 'the rapture' (which is essentially an ecstatic, mystical experience of the divine, first and foremost), interplanetary migrations, and the Singularity together as "bizarre", escapist trollop and even more extreme > pathological ... you are not only showing your ignorance regarding visionary and mystical experiences, but your contempt for it too. Why? It makes me sad.

If you have had a personal experience of the cosmos to the extent that it blew your mind, you would be less inclined to judge the concept of any 'rapture'. In fact, you would be more inclined to 'rhapsodize' the human-nature connection rather than dichotomize it.

I am inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt and not assume that you are suffering from the disease of dry, angry academia >>>
OR, that you are so out of touch with the universal feminine that you fear non-academic, non-intellectual, non-rational ... visceral, intuitive experience (ie. mystical, visionary) >>>

Instead I'm just going to assume that you, like me, have met so many armchair activists that you can't stand the sight of them, and that you have met so many 'dodgy' so-called mystics that you tend to avoid them all together ....

Just be aware that there might be aspects to these 'crazy' ideas that you are missing out on because you're not seeing clearly.


ClarkStrand's picture

Not sure how we got onto this idea that I am some sort of academic, intellectual, non-feminist kind of guy. Or that I am averse to or unfamiliar with the visionary or mystical. You seem to have presumed a great deal.

It's fine if you want to argue the matter from the standpoint of a certain kind of Buddhist orthodoxy. My approach is necessarily broader (you are free to say "shallower" if you like, if that is what you believe), since it takes the Earth as its foundation. In any case, what you read in this column is the product of a lifetime of practice and study, in and out of monasteries and other spiritual settings, sometimes as teacher and sometimes as student. Over the past twenty years, it has been increasingly the latter, as I have apprenticed myself to spiritual adepts from various other traditions (both within Buddhism and beyond it). I am willing to assume that your own opinions/point of view are similarly informed and wouldn't presume to suggest that you were somehow ignorant or ill-informed, though we may still disagree.

Anreal's picture

lol, there seems to be an ongoing misunderstanding of sorts.

I keep pointing out that your wonderful articles are spoiled by small references to ...

'bizarre religious freaks'
'weird digital fantasies'

... and then calling 'those' people's views PATHOLOGICAL, when your points are perfectly well demonstrated without the need to make remarks like that.

So, I will rest my case here and not address it again.

As long as you keep calling other people/things/situations by names, judging it, labeling it ESPECIALLY when you do it incorrectly or in a way that points to some gap in either your understanding, your compassion or your learning (which I truly wish is not the case) how can anyone take your arguments seriously?

Because I am loathe to assume that it is a matter of education, I am left only with the impression that it is quite simply the purposeful and stubborn persistence of folly.

P.S I am not impressed by 'Buddhist Pedigrees' in fact I have seen it be an obstacle in more than one occasion ... What I look for in terms of realization is quite simply the every day to day expression of ones Awareness.

All I am saying is I think you can do better. Take out the scathing remarks about 'other people' and all will be well, better in fact, that is if you respect your audience's level of Awareness.


Anreal's picture

SHo what a lovely discussion especially hearing the Zen and Chan equivalents of Dzogchen non-duality!
Thank you so very much.

ClarkStrand's picture

Exactly, Anreal. These were just the kinds of exchanges, bringing multiple traditions in on the broader discussion about ecology and environmentalism, that I was hoping for when I began this series. So wonderful to see everybody share like this.

rinchen_wangmo's picture

To quote an article posted on this website:

«According to Huang-po Hsi-yun, a ninth-century Ch'an master: "There is just the omnipresent voidness of the real self-existent Nature of everything, and no more. All these phenomena are intrinsically void and yet this Mind with which they are identical is no mere nothingness. By this I mean that it does exist, but in a way too marvellous for us to comprehend. It is an existence which is no existence, a non-existence which is nevertheless existence."» (page 2)

FCaplow's picture

An interesting discussion. Glad to see it here. I'm a Soto Zen priest and also a botanist who works to protect rare native plants, so this subject is very alive for me. What comes to mind is the great Sandokai - The Merging of Difference and Unity - written in the 8th century by the Zen master Sekito Kisen and still chanted in Zen temples all over the world. And these lines in particular:

To be attached to things is illusion;
To encounter the absolute is not yet enlightenment.
Each and all, the subjective and objective spheres are related,
and at the same time, independent.

So easy to fall one way or another! It's always been moving to me that Michael Soule, after years in a Zen monastery, came back to his career as an ecologist and went on to found the science of conservation biology, which has revolutionized ecology and the life sciences - science and knowledge placed in the service of conservation and protection of the world, bodhisattva activities through and through. It seems to me that before he went to the monastery he was "attached to things", and perhaps at some point in his practice he "encountered the absolute" and then he came to understand that it's never one or the other, it's both and neither, related and independent, and so he came back out into the world and did an utterly new, radical, and beneficial thing.

I will say also, slightly tongue in cheek, that in the time of climate change and seeming alienation from the natural world, one can argue that the activities of chopping wood and drawing water - literally - are wonderful responses to the trouble we're in. Wood is renewable, and how many of us are this close to our basic needs - warmth and water - that we take care with our bodies to receive them? What would it mean to the world if we all chopped our own wood and carried our own water? We would take such care not to overuse them, wouldn't we? And we would take care of our bodies at the same time, and be so much more aware of our interconnectivity, the essential fallacy of separation.

The absolute works together with the relative like two arrows meeting in mid-air. (From Sandokai)


Zenshin Florence Caplow

ClarkStrand's picture

Actually, I like the following a lot, Florence. Thank you.

<< I will say also, slightly tongue in cheek, that in the time of climate change and seeming alienation from the natural world, one can argue that the activities of chopping wood and drawing water - literally - are wonderful responses to the trouble we're in. Wood is renewable, and how many of us are this close to our basic needs - warmth and water - that we take care with our bodies to receive them? What would it mean to the world if we all chopped our own wood and carried our own water? We would take such care not to overuse them, wouldn't we? And we would take care of our bodies at the same time, and be so much more aware of our interconnectivity, the essential fallacy of separation. >>

I don't carry my own water these days, but I so spend a lot of time splitting wood, which is both good exercise and something I love to do. Since we converted to wood, my wife and I spend one morning a week hauling and splitting together--not to mention hours of basically good-spirited argument in between over how best to lay logs on the coals for maximum heat and burn duration.

Also, thanks for directing people's attention to Michael Soule. Those who are interested in his work can follow this link to an interview I did with him for Tricycle a few years back:

Glenda Gill's picture

Anreal writes: "In fact, the very nature of this interdependence being 'empty' makes it possible for example to effect vast reaches of the universe merely with a single thought because the 'density of conditioning or wrong view' that gives material existence the appearance of solidity falls away completely with the awareness of things as they are, interdependent and utterly empty with not one iota of so-called 'existence' anywhere to be found. Nothing but pure pulsing potential - sound, light and sensation.
This is the theory at least. :)"

This is a misunderstanding. Emptiness does not mean that things do not exist.That is ontological nihilism, not Buddhism. Buddhism seeks a middle way between nihilism and eternalism.

Anreal writes: "But if you turn it on 'other people' who truly and not just as a 'notion' DOES NOT EVEN EXIST OTHER THAN AS MANIFESTATIONS OF YOUR OWN MIND, you are really just wasting the power of anger by letting one part of you get all gripey about another part of you."

Are you arguing that Clark's mind is only a manifestation of your mind? In other words, Clark's mind does not exist independently of yours?

If you are, then your mind has a split personality and you are arguing with yourself. The Anreal part of your mind is doing exactly the thing you accuse the Clark part of "your own mind" of doing, and "getting all gripey" with yourself. In order to communicate with the Clark part of "your own mind" you have to write letters to yourself via Tricycle. Sounds absurd, yes?

The other possibility is that Clark's mind does exist other than as a manifestation of your own mind.

In that case, we have just disproved your theorem.

Since this is the more likely case, let's examine what Buddhism might be saying. You perceive Clark through your mind. That means that your perception of Clark is dependent on your own mind. So when you perceive him you are doing so through the distorting lens of your own thoughts and conditioning. The purpose of Buddhism is to help you become aware of your own thoughts and conditioning so that you can see clearly what Clark is trying to say.

Anreal's picture

My apologies Glenda ... I was not aware that I have offended Clark so much that I deserve to be called a split personality ... but that's ok, lol > non-duality is not an easy thing to understand and I totally sympathize with your frustration in grasping it. (For the most part that is why Dzogchen is really a secret teaching and not readily discussed in open debate, but I felt that here I can at least from time to time get to the meat and bones of non-duality and see what happens.) Anyway, if I sound like I am judging anyone it is not at all my intention. Why would I judge manifestations of my self? Ridiculous! Except of course in cases of bad taste and a sloppy level of entertainment, and of course when it comes to the purity of the teachings :)

Firstly, I have never said there is only emptiness, but always the dance that is emptiness and form, emptiness and form. This emptiness is always filled with the pure potentiality. Please don't make the mistake of thinking that I am talking about nihilism because I am not, and it is not what I am trying to describe, however the finer details of that will have to be hammered out as we continue to talk about it with each other.

Maybe I should give a quick demonstration of how non-duality is explained in using what is called 'the four philosophical extremes'. Please note that I am doing it as simply as possible, in my own words for ease of understanding.
These are nihilism, eternalism, monoism and dualism.
>>>> Non-Duality differs from nihilism in the sense that there is not only Emptiness, but that reality is a constant dance between Emptiness AND Form.
>>>>>Non-Duality differs from eternalism by the fact that reality is a Constantly Changing and dynamic expression of awareness – everything is bound to change and give way to something else.
>>>>Non-Duality differs from monoism in the sense that Non-Duality does not negate the existence of Multiplicity.
>>>>>Finally Non-Duality differs from Duality in that all things are interconnected in the inseparability of the Mind.

So you will see that there are two other aspects that also come into play, namely 'not monoism' and 'not duality' and we can talk about that some other time if the mood arises yes?

YEs, Clark's mind is a manifestation of my mind but where you make the mistake first of all is using the idea of "ONLY your mind" while at the same time attributing the "YOUR" as an identity that is supposedly real too. Remember that the MIND in this case is the only mind that exists, the source of all consciousness and according to non-duality the best way to engage this 'sphere of total consciousness' is by recognizing firstly that its all reflections of ones own mind. Of course I cannot just explain everything in one go but I will slowly try deal with some of the 'issues'. Like I said, and that was my challenge, that I think many Buddhists use the 'relative/absolute' distinction as an excuse to rest in the 'relative' forgetting that from an 'absolute' level the teachings are very clear about the Non-dual nature of the mind. So what I was saying is that's totally ok with me, if people choose to stay on the relative level for ease of understanding, but in truth, to make sweeping comments about the interpretation of the teachings as if the absolute is nothing more than academic escapism is a mistake, plain and simple.

Very good you are starting to understand the whole ridiculousnes of duality, as in essence people really are just arguing about themselves, to themselves or with themselves, which is rather silly when you think about it isn't it. Of course if you live inside the 'sphere of total consciousness' it may appear to have many personalities, as everything that exists exists WITHIN the total sphere of consciousness but 'split personality' is not the best way to look at it. It is called 'multiplicity' to be exact. And yes, I am interacting with myself here, aspects of myself, as you are too, but I am fully aware of it and stand by every word I say. I cannot speak for you. Writing letters to clark as aspect of my own mind is not something i HAVE to do, it is something I do because, well what else am I gonna do, I like talking about dharma.
Understanding that he is me means I don't take anything too personally, and I don't get too personal either, I am not emotionally invested in the outcome because right from the start I approach it as a just something enjoyable to do.

When one finally comes to an understanding of the non-dual nature of the mind as something real and true, as an EXPERIENCE ..... it is everything else that seems totally absurd to be honest. The idea of NOT knowing that my food is me, the my tv is me, that the radio is me, and so on is what is really absurd.
But then again, the idea of ME is also totally absurd, as this so-called 'me' does not exist either, not as anything other than temporary movements of form. To place any stock in the 'separate existence' of things is what is totally absurd.

But that is of course why Garab Dorje said, the very first thing that one needs to do as far as Dzogchen is concerned is
"Discover for yourself the nature of your mind" because one simply cannot grasp it until one has EXPERIENCED it. That is yet another complete teaching all by itself so I won't go into it here.

And also, it is not 'my theory' it is a Buddhist Teaching, I only said 'theory' because from your perspective if you haven't experienced something it is just someone else's words, a theory. In that way most of the teachings are also just 'theory' until we see and feel and experience them for ourselves in our lives. That is all I meant.

In terms of 'perceiving clark through our mind' is the exact opposite of the teachings. From the non-dual perspective all external appearances are reflections OF the mind, projected onto the screen of space from ones heart and out through the eyes. Lets take the saying where you say 'that you perceive someone through a distorted lens' and I agree completely there. The distorted lens in this case is duality, the very concept that clark is a person seperate from me IS the very conditioning and distortion that Buddhism aims to remove .... why? Because if one can get to a point where one sees reality as it truly is .... namely, "as Self, as Empty and as Aware, whilst constantly manifesting" one no longer sees through a distorted lens.

I hope that expressed a little more about where I am coming from?

Anreal's picture

But now that I've done my bit in terms of what I feel is necessary regarding the teachings ...
To be perfectly honest I do not even consider people who are not actively in SOME small way doing something that affects the planet harmoniously (even if it is scraping paint of a wall) real Buddhists anyway ... or real anything for that matter. Ha ha. Which is the power and joy of Non-Duality. :)
The challenge in this day and age is indeed to shake things up a bit without getting caught up in anger that boomerangs back. Forge our swords of hatred and anger into the fine diamond blade of pristine clarity with which to cut down delusions.

Have you considered what else there would be to do if not for all these challenging feelings and experiences. Even a hundred thousand years chilling in a world where nothing ever goes 'wrong' will get boring eventually ...

Anreal's picture

The only war that ever needs to be fought is war against the Ignorance of the Nature of our Minds ...

Anreal's picture

Thanks for your response. :)

What I find interesting here is this thing you call a 'notion' and how it supposedly does or doesn't relate to so-called 'reality', as well as what exactly is meant by 'exist'. This I think might make it easier for me to grasp your view more precisely.

In terms of 'interdependence' of things > I don't see what that has to do with what is 'real' and what 'exists'. The interdependence of things are a law of the universe, all is Self, and Self is also empty, and so are all the myriad things. Understanding the nature of its 'non-existence' should not negate its interdependence with all things and I guess that is where people make the mistake, seeing emptiness and interdependence as mutually exclusive characteristics. In fact, the very nature of this interdependence being 'empty' makes it possible for example to effect vast reaches of the universe merely with a single thought because the 'density of conditioning or wrong view' that gives material existence the appearance of solidity falls away completely with the awareness of things as they are, interdependent and utterly empty with not one iota of so-called 'existence' anywhere to be found. Nothing but pure pulsing potential - sound, light and sensation.

This is the theory at least. :)
So, to use the example of your friend on the subway, he actually very much had the right idea, however his 'failure' to have mastery over the perceived external world (as the story goes) is not because the theory of what he attempted was wrong. He did not succeed because it takes more than just a 'change of mind' to dissolve all of ones dualistic conditioning, especially if 20 hours, every day of ones entire life was spent buying into the external world as real and separate! People seem to think its that easy to get rid of conditioning ... it always strikes me as strange.
Anyone can, if they want, learn to walk through walls, but the dedication that it would need to retrain the mind to see things as it really is would take years and years. He would've done well to remain patient, and focus on other, more important 'siddhis' instead such as Total Realization at which point the lesser siddhis spontaneously start appearing anyway as one sees the emptiness of things more and more.

"It's physical reality" only "turned out to be as real as his" because he was still bound at some level to the idea of separation, duality and 'existence'.

From a non-dual perspective the best thing that we can do for the environment is to remove all dualities from our minds. When one has reached a point where 'there' and 'here' are no longer experienced as separate "all are seen as Buddha fields" ... Technically speaking the reason why your world is perceived to have suffering in it, is because you still have dualities that need to be resolved. I of course have no problem seeing it that way as far as I am concerned. The suffering I see in my reality I TOTALLY recognize as my very own creation, and have my various practices to rid my mind of dualistic fixations.

I am not saying ignore what is going on at all. At the same time I am aware that to change things out there, or freak out because things are bad, and to attempt to fix a world that is really not broken in any way two possible and terrible mistakes can occur.
1. One buys into the external world as real and gets caught up in suffering, anger, despair, judgment you name it. (If one plays in the world, doing what one loves, with enjoyment, then no error of course, but one needs to be aware at all times the the 'suffering babies' are Buddhas here to help us train our own minds to see things for what they really are > empty.)
2. Each time we focus on 'whats wrong with the world' we are in fact going against what is really true, which is that every ounce of every moment of suffering is also pure and perfect exactly as it is, and to attempt to change it only reinforces our own ignorance and continues the cycle of suffering.

Ideally the skill is NOT to compromise on the Ultimate view, learn from the suffering of others and dissolve all dualities in ourselves that continue to manifest as suffering OUT THERE. While at the same time being able to be in the world, do what we feel passionate about BUT without getting caught up in the idea that any of it has any more meaning than any other part of it. We are here, we like to do things, and doing something because you love it is reason enough to do it.

I have just recently come to the decision that so many of us who care about social issues are so 'reactionary' and I am putting a stop to it. If of course you want to use Anger as a skillful means to make something happen, by all means. But if you turn it on 'other people' who truly and not just as a 'notion' DOES NOT EVEN EXIST OTHER THAN AS MANIFESTATIONS OF YOUR OWN MIND, you are really just wasting the power of anger by letting one part of you get all gripey about another part of you.

Being aware of the emptiness of things are not withdrawing from things at all, but instead to pierce through its 'substantialness' and see the truth of its empty nature. One man sitting in his office, completely aware of the emptiness of all things affects the universe more deeply and profoundly than a hundred activists who spend all their time being angry.

The only reason why I AM commenting on this post, is not because I think you should or should not do anything however, when the meaning of the teachings are being represented in a compromised and distorted way I will call people on it, every single time.

The fact that reality and everything in it is empty, pure potential is not a notion, it is the very nature of the universe itself.
The 'notions' in this case and in every case, are the delusions and conditioning that tells us any different, and THIS is the path of Buddhism, to rid the mind of all its incorrect and poisonous 'notions'.

It would be quite interesting to see what would happen if everyone just finally stopped buying into reality. There is no birth of species, nor its extinction, neither is there such a thing as time or space, self or other. There is only the play of light and what we do with it. If even one being on this planet can fully realise this, they could 'remanifest' an entire species with the blink of an eye.

TRUST THE PERFECTION, do what you love.

ClarkStrand's picture

You may be right about the gripy comment, Anreal, although koans and commentaries often enter that territory, and the bit about using or not using another's words is a strong theme in Zen tradition. But, setting that matter aside for the moment, you ask what my take is on "not buying into external reality." Am I right is assuming that is the pith of what you say? If so, my thoughts would be as follows.

As a species our whole notion of a reality external to us originates from the belief in a separate self, which seems to be a cognitive brain function as much as anything else. That self is what the Diamond Sutra refers to as a "separated individuality"--something which most forms of Buddhism teach does not, in fact, exist. But that is not the same as saying that the Earth and all its myriad species are not real, do not exist, and that what we call our "lives" are not completely interdependent with them. It means that we have no existence separate from them. In other words, it is the "external" part of external reality that is the problem.

An old friend of mine, since departed, who was one of the first Europeans to study Zen in Japan, once told the story of a man who was studying Zen at a nearby temple. This particular guy was working on a koan that had to do with the very issue you raise about not buying into external reality (actually, if I remember correctly, the koan in question is about not buying into the "notion" of a reality separate to his own body-mind and not the notion of reality itself). One day he went out and stood in front of the Tokyo express train as a way of breaking through the koan. True, the train was not separate. But its physical reality nevertheless turned out to be as real as his.

I realize that this is probably not what you meant to suggest anyway and don't want to imply that your view on the matter is unbalanced or extreme. I do think, however, that we cannot pretend that the situation at hand as concerns climate change, our dwindling supply of fresh water, and the widespread social injustice and environmental degradation that tend to go hand in hand with economic colonialism are matters that will be solved by withdrawing our attention from them. Nor am I necessarily talking about "running around doing good deeds."

I must tell you honestly, however, that this phrase rubs me the wrong way (so at this point maybe we're even). Although the Buddha had much to say on the subject of aimless or unskillful effort (which I guess would be a rough equivalent to the "running around" part), I never heard him disparage good deeds. Quite the contrary. Among the teachings we can safely attribute to him, a great many seem to concern such deeds.

ClarkStrand's picture

But that's just one view. As with our discussion from a couple of weeks ago about the current Green Bodhisattva column, there's room for exploration here. Are there other Buddhists who believe that splitting wood (i.e., withdrawing our attention from external reality) is a more effective way of addressing the problem of species extinction and other forms of social and environmental injustice? Or do you concur to some extent with the general drift of the koan? Keep in mind that, as reflected in the verse, there are two kinds of wood splitting here, P'ang and not-P'ang.

Anreal's picture

Ehm, firstly, as much as you are correct in questioning whether people use the idea of 'do nothing' to 'cop out of reality' as it where, you are also possibly erring by assuming that it is a cop out.

As long as one buys into external reality as real, it will continue to cause suffering. Many are unable to grasp it properly, and use it as an escape. On the other hand, many who cannot grasp it, judge some who do, as 'escapists'.

The truth of reality, from an Ultimate level is that there are no wars anywhere to be seen, other than reflections of YOUR own mind. Of course, i'm perfectly ok with seeing it as My Mind, and cannot speak for 'you' as 'you' are also a reflection of 'my' mind. At the same time we are also completely empty, nothing more than sound, light and sensation which constantly changes form according to the prevailing mood and of course my attachment and/or aversion to it all.
But that's from my perspective.

Waddling around in relative truths just because one can't bear to live in the Ultimate is one thing, but speaking from a 'relative' perspective AS IF it is more real than the Ultimate isn't really representing the truth of Buddhism.

If only people would stop buying into external reality and instead invest every action, even the most 'supposedly' meaningless with true awareness, there quite simply would be no wars at all.

It is the Buddha himself who said "If one could remain Aware for the time it takes an ant to walk from the tip of ones nose to the bridge, it would be worth more than lifetimes of accumulating good merit".
Directly translated to this scenario one could say that " If one can remain truly present and aware for the time it takes one to split a single piece of wood, it is worth more than a lifetime of running around doing good deeds'.

"Look deeply at the world and see a magicians dream" said one of the Dalai lamas. Those who still consider the external world to be even one iota more real than their own, empty minds, are the ones who are deluded.

I wonder what your take on that is?

And furthermore, what is wrong with using someone else's sayings, especially when the syntax is great? Buddhism surely isn't a 'who is the most original' competition, but rather about the Wisdom to recognize a good thing?

... This article could've been insightful but it just sounds like you have a gripe with some guy. What a pity. Totally spoiled the article for me.