- A transcript from The Hour of Judgment radio series -
Copyright (c) 1995 Kevin Solway & David QuinnGuests:
- Do-Kwang Su nim - Zen monk
- Mervin Thomas - Buddhist practitioner
Hosts: Kevin Solway & David Quinn
Buddhism is easily the coldest religion on earth. While other religions preach submission to an almighty being, Buddhism advocates independence, self-reliance and the pursuit of reason. Its goal is nothing less than the complete understanding of reality. What magnificence! But don't look to the Buddhists of today for guidance in these matters. They are as effeminate as Christians. They hate reality with a vengeance and do everything they can to banish reason from their minds. In effect, there are two types of Buddhism in existence. There is popular Buddhism with its temples, robes, rituals, chanting, meditation, gurus, acts of compassion, prayer wheels and all the rest. Then there is true Buddhism, the path of relinquishing all attachments. Millions flock to the temples and the gurus, but true Buddhism is practiced by very few. While monks and gurus regularly give "teachings" to their devoted followers in friendly environs, it is rare for their understanding to be challenged in any significant way. This is particularly true in these backward times of ours where false compassion reigns and reason is derided. Who among us is capable of confronting these gurus with a brandished sword, ready to behead any who make a false move? Indeed, who even believes that gurus should be confronted at all? Kevin and I thought it was high time at least one of them was brought before The Hour of Judgment. I rang the Brisbane Zen Centre and asked if anyone there was serious about Buddhism. The man at the other end of the line said, "Well, I'm a monk! Is that serious enough for you?" Despite his Australian accent, he called himself Do Kwang and said that he would love to come onto the program and "spread the message". Indeed, when a white caucasian, with head shaved and dressed in grey robes, strode into the studios on Sunday evening - looking more like a John Brown than a Do Kwang - he certainly appeared ready for business. His face was grim, his mind seemed focused. His colleague, however, seemed a little less sure of himself. Mervin Thomas, an Englishmen who taught mathematics, looked upon us warily for some reason, as if half-expecting us to suddenly leap at his throat. Perhaps he didn't like our scruffy clothes. Perhaps he was put off by our intellectual demeanour. I tried to reassure them both by saying that Kevin and myself considered ourselves to be enlightened and on the Buddhist path to perfection, and that they should regard the coming discussion as one of getting to the nitty-gritty of Buddhism. Think of it, I said, as four experts on Zen leisurely thrashing around the Dharma. Whether this calmed them or not, I do not know, but it certainly got the conversation into a proper focus within a very short space of time.
David: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Hour of Judgment. My name is David Quinn and tonight's topic is Buddhism. Tonight's guests are two practitioners of Korean Zen Buddhism - their names are Do Kwang Su-Nim, who is actually an ordained monk, and Mervin Thomas, a senior practitioner and director of the Korean Zen group of Brisbane. Is that right?
Do Kwang: The Dae Kwang Sa Zen Temple in Brisbane.
David: Okay then. Over the next hour I'd like to come to grips with, or really get to the bottom of, what Buddhism is. What is the Buddhist path to enlightenment? And so I might open with that question, actually, to you, Do Kwang. What is Buddhism to you? What is the spiritual path?
Do Kwang: Good evening. Well, quite simply, the Buddha's teaching was to understand the origins of suffering and how to overcome the worldly suffering. He recommended that we should be, within ourselves, meditative and aware moment by moment, and we should attempt to quieten the mind in order to allow our Buddha-Nature, our true nature, to come to the surface, so that we see things more clearly moment by moment. And in order to do that we have to put down opinions, ideas and so on, so that we can see things just as they are.
David: Merv, does this resonate with you? Or do you have something to add to it?
Merv: It certainly resonates with me. Yes, I agree with it. I suppose for me being a Buddhist means learning to live not for me. It means learning to live for other people instead of selfishly for myself. It means learning to put down the little self - the little me.
David: Okay then, we might just move on to the reasons why you became a monk, Do Kwang. Why did you choose the particular school that you did? It's Zen. It's Korean Zen. It's related to Ch'an, which is the Chinese Zen. Chinese Zen actually gave off to Japanese Zen as well, didn't it?
Do Kwang: Yes.
David: You could say that the three are related - the three Zens - in the sense that they're completely different to other types of Buddhism, like Indian Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism. Those types of Buddhism are very structured. There are huge scriptures in which all the nuances of everything to do with the Buddhist path are meticulously analyzed - they've got thousands of categories for everything. Whereas in the Zen tradition you've basically done away with a lot of that and you've just concentrated on the "direct pointing to Reality", that sort of thing. But on the other hand, Zen still has its traditions and its own way of doing things. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit on why you chose Zen?
Do Kwang: Well, first up, I chose to become a monk because Australia is really a Dharma-desert. There really is very little Buddhist teaching of any substance in this country. Most of the Buddhist temples in this country are of ethnic origin where it is mostly cultural influences rather than the teachings and the practices of the Buddhist system. So in order to be constructive and help spread the Dharma I thought it would be good to just wear the badge, if you will, the uniform, because this is what people seem to look for. To make the personal commitment, because as Merv said we have to serve other people. It is quite easy to go through our lives chasing the Dharma for ourselves, but that doesn't help the rest of the community. But as for Korean Zen . . . well, how I came to sit with that was that I tried Japanese Zen, I tried Vipasyana, I tried Tibetan, and nothing seemed to sort of really fit in. And then I heard a Kwang Om master, the late So Bunkosa, at a talk, and within two minutes of hearing this man speaking I realized that this man was my teacher. He was actually making sense. For the first time I'd come across a Zen teacher, or a teacher of the Buddha-dharma, who actually made sense. He spoke in such a way that you didn't have to be an intellectual to understand it. He reached right down to the grass roots. And I've since heard other teachers from the same lineage give lectures and they're all the same. They all teach the grass roots, and that's unique because Zen is a very difficult subject to talk on and these guys did it so well. They won me.
David: I'd like to have a look at more about choosing a Zen master or a guru, because it's a very important issue here. Ah . . . I've lost my train of thought actually . . .
Kevin: Well, you were saying that within two minutes or so you were won over to this particular type of Zen. Are there any particular words that he used that you can recall?
Do Kwang: Yes, there were.
Kevin: And what were those words?
Do Kwang: It was more or less his opening line. He said, "If what you are practicing in the meditation room is not relevant to your everyday life, it's a crock of shit".
Kevin: That's a pretty good teaching!
Do Kwang: And I mean, that's the basic fact. What we do in the meditation room is less than 5% of our lives. And in the rest of our lives, how do we live it? How do we handle each moment just as it happens? How do we go through our lives relating to other people and to situations? This is what is important, and this is what the teaching guides us, and this is what they tried to tell us.
Kevin: Okay, perhaps we can move on now to exactly how we do this. How do we live in each moment seeing Reality just as it is, without projecting unnecessary things onto what's already there? How do we keep life simple for that matter? Obviously there are some things that we are doing which we shouldn't be doing. What are those things? Can you put it into a few words what it is that we're doing which we shouldn't be doing? Any ideas, either of you?
Merv: Focus on ourselves, all the time. How does this affect me? What's in it for me?
Kevin: And why shouldn't . . .
Merv: Me, me, me, me, me!
Kevin: And why shouldn't we focus on ourselves? It seems like most people do it.
Kevin: Obviously they can find good reasons to do so.
Merv: And I do it constantly, all the time.
Merv: And it's fiendishly difficult not to. You can't even achieve not doing it by trying not to do it. Why shouldn't we do it? It's an act of faith with us, a statement of our faith that we find ourselves most completely when we stop focusing on ourselves. That we realize our true self when we cease to be preoccupied with ourselves and give ourselves to others.
Kevin: Okay. This still doesn't explain, to my mind . . . you'd be familiar with a lot of the New Age teachings, and a lot of what I get from them is that if it feels good, do it! This is probably the philosophy of most people, actually. So people try something and it gives them a feeling of satisfaction, a bit of a glow, a feeling of peace, maybe - like listening to music, for example. People do it once, it feels good, so they do it again and again and again. How does your religion differ from this?
Do Kwang: It's not so much a question of how our religion differs from this, it's more a question of: how do we deal with this? You see, our practice is to actually try and put down the self - but at the same time not deny the self. So what we do is we sit and we try to teach ourselves that each and every one of us is perfect and complete just as we are. I suppose it's a bit like building up your own self-esteem. But if we realize that every one of us is perfect and complete just as we are, then we can learn to believe in ourselves a hundred percent. If we can believe in ourselves a hundred percent, then we can believe in everyone else a hundred percent. This builds love. This builds compassion, and wisdom. And with that we can then look at each moment just as it happens, without opinion, without prejudice. We must learn to accept, just truly accept, life, rather than to try and make something out of it when it's really not there.
Kevin: This is the problem: if people knew what they really were, they'd find it a lot easier to live just as they are. I think the problem with most people is that they have no idea what they really are, so they find it impossible to live in that state. What is the state in which we really are? Most people believe that we are born at some time, that we live a certain period of time and then we die. Some people believe in an afterlife, going to heaven or hell or whatever. The majority of people, I think, believe you just die and you're buried under the ground and that's that. Is this the way we really are? What do you think?
Do Kwang: When we're born, we're born perfect and complete. When we die, we die perfect and complete. The trouble is we lose sight of this. You see, in our childhood, our parents - well meaning as they are - condition us. Our peers, as we grow up, condition us. Society conditions us. So we grow up with this conditioned mind, and with this conditioned mind we loose sight of the Truth, we loose sight of Reality.
Kevin: Okay, what do you think of reincarnation? When most people think of Buddhism they think of reincarnation. It's not so much an important part of Zen, but it's an important part of where Zen came from. If you look in the Buddhist scriptures there are references to reincarnation.
Do Kwang: "Reincarnation" is not really a good way to actually put it. I'd say "re-existence of consciousness".
Kevin: Okay, can you speak a bit more on how our consciousness re-exists after a life?
Do Kwang: Well, I can only speak on what the Buddha told us--
Kevin: Can you speak from your own knowledge on this?
Do Kwang: My own knowledge! Well, I obviously have no sound knowledge on the subject because I'm not dead! [Laughter] But however, it's a question of clinging to attachments, clinging to ideas - all forms of clinging, all forms of craving. That's what binds us, and that's the idea of seeking enlightenment. I try not to use the word "enlightenment" too much, but you see what we're trying to do is to put down ideas, opinions, and to just accept things. The Buddha said, "All things are suffering in life". He said, "There is suffering in birth, sickness, old age and death. There is suffering in attachments to loved ones, attachments to possessions, even attachments to situations, and attachments to the senses." He recommended that we should look for a way to put down these attachments and he recommended that we be meditative. A small quote of his was, "Be unto thyself thine own salvation. The Buddha has shown you the way, and the one who is meditative will be his own salvation from suffering."
Kevin: I'd like to concentrate a bit more on this subject of life and death. I think it really is getting to the core of what Truth really is, and what we really are. If we're going to live as we really are, as our true selves, then we have to understand our own life and death. This also means understanding our own consciousness - what consciousness actually is, whether consciousness is restricted to our bodies or not. Is our consciousness inside our bodies for the whole of our lives, before travelling to another place? You'd be familiar with the Tibetan Buddhists. They have a very strong tradition where they believe that some form of subtle consciousness goes from one body at death to another body - in a linear fashion, one life following another life, with some small exceptions. And they believe this literally right from the top - to the Dalai Lama himself, who is himself supposedly the 16th incarnation of a certain kind of Buddha. From your own knowledge - I'm speaking about your own knowledge, not what the scriptures say - have you thought about this to any degree?
Merv: I don't think this is relevant. I don't think it's relevant because I ask the question: does the literal truth of reincarnation or otherwise have any influence on my practice or on why I practise, or on how I live my life? And the answer I think is no. It is irrelevant, so I put it down. I don't waste my time speculating about something I can never know.
David: But it goes to the core of looking at your self. I mean, we are talking about the subject of "self", and the question of what it is that reincarnates is a very important one. Because if you understand what the self is or if you understand what reincarnation is - they're both interrelated questions. So, this is why we're approaching this--
Merv: I'm unconvinced of that.
David: Well, some people say that consciousness reincarnates, that it survives death. So some people would say that this is actually your self - your consciousness is your true self. So from what you were saying before, that the idea is to live to your true self, then that would mean trying to live to your consciousness in some way.
Kevin: Well, it means you understand whether there is reincarnation or not - if you understand your own self.
Do Kwang: On a personal point of view, I do believe that consciousness does re-exist. I don't think any of us can fully understand it or explain it. It's a question of belief, a personal belief.
Kevin: You must obviously have some reasons for having this personal belief.
Do Kwang: I have a deep seated belief in love and the Buddha's teachings, and it stems from that. Other than that, I can't really say . . . maybe it's just knowing. That's what the Buddha-Nature's all about, just knowing.
David: Can I ask, are you enlightened yourself? Are you an enlightened man?
Do Kwang: I can answer that by . . . in the Diamond Sutra, the Tathagata, the Buddha, said to Subhuti, "Tell me, Subhuti, were the Tathagata to say he was enlightened would he truly be the Tathagata?" And Subhuti said, "World Honoured One, if I understand the Tathagata's teachings, were he to say that he was the Tathagata he would not be the Tathagata. For him to say that he is the Tathagata would be the existence of a self, an ego, therefore he would not be that."
David: Yes, but presumably the Buddha himself was enlightened, and he knew it. He knew himself to be enlightened and he proclaimed it. For example, after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, people would come up to him and say, "You look different". And He said, "I know everything. I understand life and death, everything." So, by your own criterion there, the Buddha was a deluded man!
Do Kwang: All of us have a small amount of that in us.
David: Alright, so you were talking about this love of Buddhist teachings and all that sort of stuff. Now to my way of thinking this depends on your own wisdom. Whether you're actually interpreting the Buddha's teachings correctly or not depends on your own wisdom. So regarding any set of teachings - they could be Buddhist or they could be Christian - there are always many ways to interpret them. And obviously, for this type of material, there's only one correct interpretation and that is the wise interpretation. So to really understand Buddhism you have to be wise yourself - it is the number one priority. So you don't claim this knowledge at all, then, that you actually understand reality?
Do Kwang: Well, it is generally believed that we are all enlightened, but we just don't see it. And of course, when wisdom grows, enlightenment does appear. It is a fact that we are all enlightened, moment by moment, but that we tend to cloud it over with opinions and ideas.
David: Alright, so there are two states. You can say for practical purposes that there are two states. There is the ignorant state and there is the enlightened state. This is definite. The Buddha himself was definitely enlightened - he definitely wasn't ignorant. Ignorant people are definitely deluded. So would you say about yourself that you're actually enlightened in this definite sense?
Do Kwang: I would not say that I am totally enlightened. I would say that I'm trying very hard to become enlightened.
David: Okay, so it should be fair to say, then, that since you're not enlightened you can't claim knowledge of the Buddha's teachings - not in their fundamental sense. You must necessarily guess, at bottom, what the Buddha's teachings are.
Do Kwang: Yeah, the only thing that understands Reality is Reality itself. The only one who truly understood the Buddha's teachings is the Buddha himself.
David: Well, again, at bottom only an enlightened man could actually claim that. For all you know, the Buddha could have been totally unenlightened. Do you want to carry on, Kevin?
Kevin: Yeah, okay. Further on this subject that only Reality can know itself. It can only know itself if it has a consciousness. So I would define enlightenment as consciousness of Ultimate Reality. So, in this sense, to say that everybody is enlightened is absolutely false, based on this definition of enlightenment. If enlightenment is a consciousness of Reality, then in no way is everybody enlightened. In fact, everybody is ignorant - probably everybody in the world. Maybe there are a few who are enlightened - who knows? All this is very clear. So I think to tell people - average people out on the street - that they are in fact enlightened and they can put down their evil lives - their lives which are one hundred percent evil, from the time they wake up in the morning, right throughout the day and throughout the night time--
Merv: I don't think their lives are one hundred percent evil. I don't think I've met anyone who's life was one hundred percent evil.
Kevin: Okay, this is an interesting point. We'll concentrate on this now.
Merv: Even me!
Kevin: Well, if evil is anything at all, it is ignorance. I can't think of anything else that evil could possibly be other than ignorance, because all bad actions come from ignorance. So ignorance is the fundamental evil in the world.
David: Are you saying a will to ignorance? Or just ignorance?
Kevin: That's even worse. It's bad enough being ignorant but to actually--
Merv: More fundamentally evil than the fundamental evil, you mean?
Kevin: Well, actually wanting to be ignorant is pretty bad. But this too comes from being ignorant. Everybody out there is extremely ignorant. Their whole lives are attachments. They go from one attachment to another, they know none other than attachment. It's not their fault. I'm not blaming them for a minute. It's the way they are. It's the way Nature has made them. It's the way their parents have. . .
Merv: It's certainly true of me.
Kevin: Well, this is what I call evil, so congratulations, you're evil. We all have this devil in us. It's quite natural. I think accepting this is one of the most important steps. It's actually the first of the Noble Truths, isn't it - the knowledge of ignorance, or the knowledge of suffering. Knowing you've got a disease is the first step of getting rid of that disease. So I go out into the world and rather than telling people they're all enlightened, I tell them they're evil.
Do Kwang: It's a good way to make friends, isn't it?
Merv: Do you make many converts?
Kevin: Is this what the Zen Masters do in your tradition?
Do Kwang: No. The Zen Masters actually try to teach us to believe in ourselves, to try and actually see the good in ourselves rather than the bad. And it's not just seeing the good in ourselves, it's seeing the good in each and every one of us. Because if we start seeing the good in people rather than the evil in people, then we'll start seeing people in a different light. It's a bit more positive than that.
David: Yes, but that good has to exist, doesn't it? I mean, we're talking about an ultimate philosophy here. Zen is suppose to be about Ultimate Truth and Ultimate Wisdom. So I prefer to use a very lofty standpoint in judging these people. I'd call someone good if he was actually wise, if he actually understood the Buddha, if he actually understood Reality. That would be good. And therefore attachment and delusion, as we were talking about before, is evil. So on this basis, virtually everybody is evil.
Kevin: And there's no good at all to be seen in them. If a person had a tendency towards the desire for knowledge - true knowledge - then the seeds of goodness would be there. But where are the seeds of goodness?
Merv: This is a very pretty word game but does it really mean anything? To say that people are fundamentally evil just flies in the face of direct human experience of the amount of kindness and generosity you find all over the place, and in surprising places, unlooked for, unexpected, spontaneously present. That's part of my daily reality, and I suggest that it's also part of your daily reality.
David: But, again, we're talking about an ultimate philosophy here. We're talking about the highest spiritual wisdom. This is what Zen is about, apparently.
Merv: I'm very, very sceptical that the highest spiritual wisdom has got anything to do with an ultimate philosophy.
David: Understanding Ultimate Reality. Living directly in Reality.
Do Kwang: What is Reality?
David: What is Reality? Well . . .
Do Kwang: Outside it is dark, inside the light is on. Is there anything beyond that?
David: . . . How would you answer that one, Kevin?
Kevin: I'd need time to think about that one!
Do Kwang: By just thinking you've missed the point.
Kevin: Wrong. Okay, what is Reality? Let's get into some intellectual discussion.
Merv: Oh, do we have to?
Kevin: I'm afraid so. People believe that things have a beginning and that they have an end. This goes for their own life as well. It goes for everything. When you actually analyse and try to find the beginning of things, you can't find it. Sure, these things appear to us and they have practical value. I can say that I was born x number of years ago and this has practical value. But when you actually try to find a real beginning it's not there, because it is all part of a process which is infinite. This "infinite" - for want of a better word, as there is no easy way to explain it - it's up there, it's to do with the Dharma. This "infinite", this substance of existence, composes all existence. This is pointing in the direction now towards real wisdom. Now, when ordinary people are aware of this truth, and not just aware of it, but when it has permeated and infiltrated every little nook and cranny of their minds - which takes years to happen - then, and only then, will their spontaneous actions be a reflection of that wisdom.
Merv: I'm not quite sure what that means. I'm not sure whether you're saying that you have to gain intellectual mastery of a particular set of propositions before you can realise the truth of your being. If so, I think you're wrong. I don't think this important sort of realization has got anything to do with intellection or anything to do with rational analytical thought.
Do Kwang: If you look at the history of Zen, if you look right back to the sixth patriarch, Hui Neng - totally illiterate, couldn't read, couldn't write.
Kevin: Sounds like me!
Do Kwang: A few of us. But there was no intellectualizing with them back then. He clearly understood the Dharma, and if you go back further to that, if you go right back to Bodhidharma - that man was not an intellectual. As a matter of fact, he didn't fit into the Buddhism of the time because the Buddhism of the time in China was an intellectual Buddhism, where they used to study sutras. In order to study sutras you had to be educated, so you were amongst a privileged few.
David: Yes, alright, but I'd like to make a distinction between this scholarly intellectualism - this sort of "metaphysical" stuff which intellectual philosophers do - and discrimination, intellectual discrimination, discrimination between what is true and what is false. Just before, you were describing Buddhism as giving up attachments. In fact, one can describe the enlightened state as total non-attachment. This includes giving up false views of Reality. And to expose these false views of Reality requires thought. It requires actually reasoning and weeding out what is false and contradictory in our minds. Because enlightenment encompasses an intellectual understanding as well. When the Buddha was enlightened, and he was asked - "You look different, what's happened?", he said, "I know everything". This was an intellectual understanding - as well as a direct understanding. We live in an age where the intellect has been played down a lot, especially over the past few decades, especially with the rise in popularity of Eastern philosophy, and it encourages this idea of giving up reason and rational thinking in favor of some kind of "direct experience" of Zen, or whatever. And I think this is very bad. Because what it does is encourage people to just stop thinking. They stop thinking about their lives and their actions. Whereas I would rather have people think about what the self is. What is the self? What is life and death? All that sort of stuff. It's very, very important.
Merv: I think you could raise those questions, "What am I?" . . . in fact, I do every day for an hour raise the question "What am I?" But in my belief you don't gain any helpful understanding of this by trying to answer it analytically. The process for answering this question, I believe, which is our practise, is to sit with the question, is to sit with the "I don't know" mind.
David: I define enlightenment as the elimination of all false thoughts - totally. So in Chinese Zen, for example, like Huang Po and the others, they talk about giving up concepts, about stopping the conceptual process. I see this as giving up everything that is false. You could say that it involves an analytical process in the sense that one has to see what is false in oneself, and this requires conscious thought. Otherwise, all the falseness is just going to stay there.
Merv: Well, again, I'm unconvinced by that. I think seeing what is true involves the direct experience that you find in meditation rather than a process of analytical reasoning. I don't believe that you can intellectualize or philosophise your way into enlightenment. I don't know, because I'm not enlightened.
Kevin: We'll just have a short musical break, a bit of Zen music from Johann Sebastian Bach, and we'll come back to this very subject.
David: Well, Kevin tells me that this music goes on forever . . . but we'd better stop it there and go back to the conversation. Now, we were talking about the role of the intellect. You say that the intellect should be . . . how would you put it . . . stifled?
Merv: No, no. The intellect is very useful. There are all sorts of things you can't do without the intellect. You can't discover lifesaving pharmaceuticals without the intellect. You can't build bridges without the intellect. The intellect is extremely useful. It has a necessary sphere of application.
David: But not with Zen? Not with understanding or gaining direct experience of Reality?
Merv: Not, I believe, in that context.
David: But because you're not enlightened, you're not sure?
Merv: I won't make any dogmatic claims about it.
Do Kwang: The intellect forms opinions. The intellect is a conditioned form of thinking. It has opinions. It has prejudices. Personal opinions and personal prejudices have nothing to do with Reality.
Kevin: I agree with you there, but is the intellect always, in all people, conditioned in the false way? Is the intellect always false? Obviously not, because in wise people the intellect is true and the intellect reasons truly. When a wise person reasons something it's not the case that this is just his "personal opinion". You can say that about an ignorant person who's living in some sort of fantasy world, but you can't say that about a wise person. Because the wise person has reasoned to such a degree that his reasoning is actually correct.
Merv: Reasoning about what? What are we reasoning about?
Kevin: Whatever, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what he reasons about.
Do Kwang: It would be quite interesting to know to what extent the ego is there in these wise people of your's, because our practise is not to put down the self, or to put down yourself, but to put down the ego. And in order to do this we sit and we reflect inwardly and we allow the wisdom to grow. We allow understanding to manifest itself. Because every one of us in this world, or most of us at least, seems to think that this entire universe is here just for "me". The fact is, it's not.
Kevin: How would you define the ego? You're saying we have to drop the ego, but the only way we know whether we have actually dropped the ego is if we know what the ego is. That is, we must first identify what the ego is. If we're in a war and we don't know what the enemy looks like then we're in trouble, because the enemy could immediately jump up in front of us with a machine gun, and since we don't recognise them as our enemy, we're dead. Now what kind of thought is involved in identifying what the ego is? I'll tell you, it's intellectual thought.
Merv: I don't think you need to identify what the ego is. I think that what we're aiming for is spontaneous giving and spontaneous generosity - generosity without thinking. I am acting in the Bodhisattva way when there is generosity and giving, without me intellectually working out that I should be generous. Doing it spontaneously and in the instant.
Kevin: You said that you wanted to drop something, but now you're saying that you don't want to know what is that has to be dropped!
Merv: I think that when I have achieved, if I ever achieve, the state of living the Bodhisattva life, it won't even occur to me that I'm giving something up. It won't even occur to me that I'm being kind or generous, I will just do it. That's my ideal. That's what I would like to achieve. But of course, my life at present is a long way from that.
David: Are you suggesting that the Buddha is an unconscious being?
Merv: No. I'm not suggesting that one is unconscious. I'm suggesting that one is conscious of the needs of the people around you, and that the Buddha moves instinctively to fill those needs.
Do Kwang: I think that what he's trying to say is that enlightenment, really, is not living for yourself but living for others.
David: But this still requires knowing what the self is. So we're back to that point. Okay, so how do we go about understanding what the self is? This seems to be crucial, if it's the case that living a good and wise life means living without the self.
Merv: We believe that there is a process for finding out truly what the self is, and that process, or a manifestation of that process, is the formal Zen training which we participate in.
David: And that would include meditation and so forth?
Merv: Meditation, discussion with a teacher, but primarily meditation.
David: Okay, so you meditate and you come upon some sort of knowledge, some sort of insight of what the self is.
Merv: One hopes so.
David: But the question then would immediately rise in my mind, because I value truth to a great degree, is: How do I know that I'm not deluded in this picture of self?
Merv: The opportunities for self-delusion in meditation are enormous because you have quite powerful experiences in meditation which may mean something or may mean absolutely nothing.
David: So this is where the importance of reasoning comes in. You're integrating what you gain in meditation with everything else, so you can get a consistent world-view.
Do Kwang: I think you find that the more you sit the more you realize that your opinions of Reality have very little grounding. I could quote a Zen Roshi, but I choose not to because he was rather explicit in that.
David: You're saying that it's your opinion that opinions about Reality are not worthwhile?
Do Kwang: The more you sit the more you realize that your opinions--
David: The more you sit the more you come to this opinion?
Do Kwang: Yeah. No, no, no! The more you realize. The more you realize.
Kevin: Taking drugs has this same effect too. People who take a lot of drugs realize that Reality is not how one normally sees it. So how is this meditation any different to taking drugs?
Do Kwang: Well, you see, most people are confused in thinking that the meditation only starts when you sit on the cushion and ends when you stand up. It must actually be in every moment of our waking lives. We must be aware of our intentions, we must be aware at all times of our actions, we must be aware of that which is around us. Instead of reacting to situations, we should just act to them in a positive way. So we must take our meditation practise and put it moment to moment in our lives, to try and avoid the wandering mind. When you walk down the street from here to your car, where is your mind when you're walking to the car? Is it with each step? Or is it on what's on at the movies at the moment?
Kevin: If you're on drugs it is probably with each step, I'd say. You see, this kind of perfect consciousness, if you want to call it that, this extreme awareness in which there is a complete absence of fear or even desire - this is what I would call an altered state of consciousness. Altered states of consciousness are very common. In fact, virtually everybody alive has had some sort of - I won't call it profound - memorable experience of an altered state of consciousness. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with wisdom. Nothing to do with the spiritual path. It is just an altered state of consciousness full stop - because no understanding is gleaned from these experiences. Sure, they are blissful, they are timeless, blah, blah, blah - but what do they tell people about life and death? Do they come to know who they are? This is what it gets back to - life and death. Is there birth? Is there death? Are we immortal? What's the purpose of life? You were speaking before about how we should help other people; I mean to me--
Merv: Do you think helping other people is irrational because it is predicated on their lives being important? Your life has importance to help other people; their life has only importance to help someone else - where does it end? I mean, are you worried that it leads to some kind of infinite recursion?
Kevin: I do not see that these other people exist in Reality. In other words, they are illusory. And if the existence of these other people is an illusion, then living your life to help other people is extremely deluded and extremely ignorant. It is evil, in fact.
Do Kwang: It's a wonderful form of evil, though, isn't it?
Kevin: No, it's not. I mean, an awful lot of harm is done by helping other people. Take Hitler, for example. He was a very compassionate man who for the good of the world decided he would eliminate inferior races from the planet . . .
Merv: He didn't believe that they were human. He defined them as not being people. He wasn't responding to their true reality. He wasn't allowing himself to perceive their true reality. He needed to deny his experience of the "now" of their lives. He needed to deny that and define them as monsters and goblins and demons so that he could destroy them. I don't think that's got . . . I mean, this is just a silly word game!
Kevin: Ah, but isn't it the same? I mean, if we see all people as good, as being fundamentally good, and we want to help them, then this also is destroying something. It destroys me for a start, because I live for my thought and my consciousness. I want my consciousness to have an impact on the world. Now - I'll just finish this line of thought . . . my line of thought is that people are not only - well, I can't say that they are fundamentally evil - they are just evil. The way they are at the moment is by definition evil, by my reasoning. I want to get rid of this evil and replace it with wisdom and enlightenment and truth. So any idea which hinders this is destructive to my life and to my consciousness. So the average Christian, for example, who just wants to live a simple life of going out and helping people, without thinking about it very much, just spontaneous helping and giving, is completely destructive to my life. So in this sense, that person is the same as Hitler and the Nazis of that period.
Merv: I think this is the worse sort of sophistry I've ever heard! I think this is a fundamental spitting in the face of reality, if you'll forgive the strength of the expression! I think you're denying something direct and human in saying that and taking refuge in a silly intellectual game - in spite of the true day-to-day experience of human goodness and human generosity. That was said in a way that could be very offensive - I'm sorry if it came across that way.
Kevin: Well, you know--
Merv: It just strikes me as being odd!
Kevin: No, I have to state the truth exactly as I see it. And I'm looking out to preserve my own existence here - as I said before, I identify myself with my thought. My way of thinking - and David's too, for he shares my way of thinking - is virtually non-existent in the world today. And so we have to preserve it and we have to preserve it strongly.
Kevin: Well, because when there is a very vigorous disease you have to apply a very strong antidote to it. And so we apply the strongest antidote possible.
Merv: What disease? What is this disease?
Do Kwang: That is your right to think that way.
Kevin: That's true, but the basic point is that whatever people do in this world is necessarily destructive to something. I like to think that my life is destructive of ignorance. People have a right, if you like, to be as ignorant as they like - but at the same time, I have a right to destroy the thing that they love. They love ignorance, they love their family, and their children, and their lovers, and sex, and the television, and everything. And I have a right, just as they do, to destroy the things that they love. Everything that we do in life destroys something. Life and death is a very important part of life. This gets back to understanding the self.
Merv: Short of painting ourselves green and standing outside in the sun and photosynthesising, we certainly have to destroy in order to live - that's a part of living. But what gives you the right to look at the lives of other people, whom you seem to be defining as ordinary people, and say "my" views and "my" opinions are so important that "I" should be able to destroy what they hold dear. This seems to me to be a very powerful form of egoism.
Do Kwang: Actually, the three poisons of the mind are greed, hatred and delusion. I really think that your view is the latter.
Kevin: It doesn't surprise me! Perhaps we should get on to the subject of authority. It looks as if we've got ten minutes left. You were saying before, in the break while we had the music on, that authority is a very important part of your tradition. By what process do you arrive at an authority? You'd be aware that there are many authorities, many different religions - even in Buddhism there are hundreds of different schools. You were saying that of all the teachers you have heard - probably hundreds - only a few actually appeal to you. Authority. How did you come, do you think, to arrive at an authority? And why is an authority important?
Merv: An authority is important because of something we talked about earlier, which is the opportunity for self-delusion, particularly in meditation where you get very intense experiences. You can dress these experiences up and make them far more significant than they are. We have a very strong capacity for deluding ourselves. And testing our experiences against a teacher, against somebody who has walked this path before us is--
David: You assume he has walked it. This is it. You're not sure at bottom whether he has or not.
Merv: I have a faith in my teacher. I have a faith in the process which has produced my teacher.
David: Faith . . . ?
Merv: Is that a dirty word? Buddhism is a religion, you know. Faith is an integral part of religion.
David: I'd rather have faith in my own mind. That's what it all comes down to. Even choosing one teacher over another comes down to an act of your own mind. It's some sort of act on your part, whether you're responding to some sort of gut feeling or whatever. Now, I'd rather trust my mind fully in a rational fashion.
Do Kwang: You find that when you meet the teacher who is for you, there's something that tells you - I can't put my finger on exactly what it is - but there is something inside you that says to you . . .
Merv: I've come home.
Do Kwang: Yeah, I've come home.
David: The only problem is that there's an awful lot of religions out there, with a lot of authorities, a lot of people, a lot of gods, and they're all saying exactly the same thing at bottom, that they find something in their teacher that speaks to them personally . . .
Do Kwang: The Buddha's advice was that when you seek a teacher you look at his teachings and you place it beside that which you know to be true and that which you know to be wrong, and if they do not match then you look further.
David: So it comes down to reasoning again, doesn't it. It must do.
Merv: There's certainly an element of reasoning in that.
Merv: Well, yeah, if my teacher, for instance, told me it was a good thing to go out and kill people I would start to have serious doubts about my teacher.
David: There you go.
Merv: However, that's an entirely hypothetical and totally irrelevant observation because my teacher would never say that.
Kevin: I tell you there are teachers in Japan who do!
Merv: There may be teachers in Japan who say that but they're not recognized, authorized teachers in our lineage. They haven't gone through the process that our teachers have gone through to become recognized teachers.
Kevin: Okay, you said before how we have to weigh up what the teacher says is true and what you yourself know is true. This is the way we decide who is an authority and who's not. So basically we're weighing up the wisdom of the teacher using our own wisdom. Now, the only way we can pass judgment on other people, including gurus, is if we are at least as wise as they are. We can't judge people who are more wise than ourself because--
Do Kwang: The reason we seek a teacher is because we know that there is room for improvement. The reason we seek a teacher is because there is a need in our lives for enrichment. I don't mean enrichment financially but spiritually. And as I said before it's not just this country that is a Dharma-desert, this entire world is a Dharma desert. There are so many beings running around in confusion, in total delusion, and instead of hating them and thinking they are evil, we'd serve humanity better--
David: Who's hating them?
Do Kwang: Or even considering them to be evil . . . we would serve mankind much better if we were to reach out a hand and offer help.
David: Precisely what we're doing!
Kevin: Okay, I'd grant that we could meet a guru and we could listen to what we says and what he says may agree with what we ourselves know to be true. So basically they're just echoing your own ideas, maybe making them a bit more articulate. And then you can make an assumption: "This person seems to know everything that I know, so possibly they know more than I do. I'm making a guess here. It's a gamble. I think this person knows more than I do, maybe he can teach me something."
Merv: No. What happens is that you build a relationship with your teacher and things happen to you during this relationship. You experience the reality of teaching. You go to a teacher confused on some point - maybe, in your koan practice - you go to a teacher uncertain about something and the teacher will ask you a question - usually - and then suddenly you go, "Ah yes, that's it". Yes, fundamentally, you're relying on your own judgment, you're own experience of reality, but you can see the process by which you've been bought to that small realization, and it is a process which has come from the teacher. It's the building of a relationship with a teacher through a series of events like that which is important in your practice and in your work with a teacher.
Kevin: Tell me, of the thousands of schools of religion around the world similar to your own, similar in structure anyway, how many of those do you think are genuine? You probably both had a fair bit of experience with different religious manifestations.
Merv: I think there is genuine spiritual insight to be gained in many of the world's religions, and none of our teachers have ever suggested that Buddhism in general, or Zen in particular, has a monopoly on truth.
Do Kwang: One flavour does not necessarily suit all people. Zen Buddhism suits me, Christianity may suit the man down the street. That's fine. As long as they find the truth, that's all that matters.
David: Okay, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you very much, Do Kwang and Mervin. They were both from the Korean Zen school - Do Kwang is a monk and Mervin is a senior practitioner.
Merv: Just a Buddhist, not a senior practitioner. Just a Buddhist.
David: Kevin and I will be back next week. Until then, bye for now.