LOGIC AND PEDAGOGY IN CH’AN
Here is a paper for the Vesak that was held in 1996 in Venice (Italy). Its aphoristic form, articulated in twelve key-points, allows me to postpone an "exhaustive" treatment of the topic in order that its provisional character could be shown. I hope that some indications may be useful to the development of Western Buddhism, which seems to be arrived to a critical and relevant point. My paper has been published in "Paramita", n. 57, pp. 53-4. I’m very glad to reproduce it in this web page.
On pragmatic knowledge. Ch’an does not consider knowledge to be a fruit of scholarly training: man starts from an inborn ground, already available to all men, according to which the enigma of the world has already been revealed. Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind) has distinguished two forms of knowledge: pragmatic knowledge, related with performances, competences, and abilities, and descriptive or declarative knowledge. The former says to us "how a thing can be done"; the latter, "what is done". The difference is the same as that between living Buddhism and sheer knowing of its history. It is superfluous to indicate which form Ch’an would prefer, and in which direction its methods are oriented.
A new perception, instead of new cognitions. Logic and pedagogy are intertwined. If I may understand reality, I also change my way of seeing it, and may cultivate a new way of thinking. This clue, too, passes over the context of Middle Age China, and can be usefully transplanted to our culture. If a Buddhist does not abandon the categories of common sense, nor does he embrace a new kind of perception, it is quite doubtful that he can be named as such. They who insist in saying that Buddhism keeps at common sense should be remembered the Nagarjunian theory of double truth, that only insists in common sense in order to overcome it. Logical-speculative implications of this topic are very complex, and cannot be neglected.
A fruitful deconstructionism. Ch’an is self-critical, more than every other Buddhist school, maybe. It ponders on itself, in order that all the possible faults of its theoretical-practical perspective may be highlighted. Its more advanced streams even assert that the Buddha is a stick with which excrements are gathered. This trait is ignored by many people, or is neglected, or reduced ("The Buddha spoke from the level of absolute truth."). Lin-chi’s injunction, according to which you need to kill the Buddha you meet with on your path, which was repeated by several masters, is neglected by such people. They need to have a reference, and may find it in considering Buddha to be a holy man; some Shakyamuni’s followers of our time do not manage to catch the moon, which is shown by his finger. I am interested in the self-critical character of Ch’an, and in its ability in putting itself under discussion; they are some elements which cancel all dogmatic potentials of Ch’an doctrine.
Pathology and health. Here is a concrete example of a change of mind: the Buddha may be seen as the common man, he who has some existential problems, and lives among the manifold anxieties of every day; however, he also accepts his contradictions, and does not allow them to overcome him (see my Masters, Milan, Mondadori: 1995). An inner alchemical work is needed, that Ch’an elaborates and performs.
Desecration. Ch’an masters were relevant personalities; they did not fear that they might go far from traditional lines, every time that it was needed to instruct a particular disciple, urging him to seeing into himself. In this regard, Hui-neng, Chao-chou, Yun-men, and many others may be remembered. It is not an irreverent comparison: in our century, Alan Watts, Chogyam Trungpa, and Krishnamurti have shown the same desecrating and innovative spirit. This may be the direction which should be followed.
The focal point. Masters knew very well that a disciple nourishes a simplified state of mind: "meditation leads to enlightenment". Therefore, they made their efforts so that disciples’ prejudices could be reduced; they said: "Enlightenment is illusion"; I may say: "Meditation is the samsara hell."
Panacea. You nourish magic thinking, while believing that the fulfillment of an act, e.g., meditation, may lead to liberation. This way, you adhere to the law of cause/effect, and fall prey to common sense.
Buddhist Practices. There is no contrast between a Buddhist scholar and a follower; if either considers the other to be inferior, on the basis of his own activity, he traces a distinction among men, falling into prejudices and adhering to acritical thought. You may follow Buddhist monk Kenko’s example (see Tzurezuregusa; Italian translation, Momenti d’ozio, Milan, Adelphi: 1975, p. 168). The mood with which activities are performed is the important thing; Ch’an managed to transplant this conviction to Japan.
A pluralistic suggestion. There is no competition among men: each one arrives to awakening through himself, through the path traced by himself. Did not Ch’an masters only say this?
From the past to the present. They who try to reduce the essence of Buddhism to a simple formula, or sheer activity, should be remembered that Dogen, the supporter of Zazen, said that a library was needed in all monasteries. Such remark was not even formulated in Ch’an, indeed!
Implications. You may start from Ch’an, or from other schools, in order to build universal Buddhism, insisting in analogies rather than in differences. In the former case, you may arrive to dialogue; in the latter, to various misunderstandings or unfruitful controversies.
A kind of synthesis, not being a conclusion. The above-mentioned proposals were born from a personal involvement, at the existential level, and they do not pretend to be decisive or convicing. Buddhism is in a very delicate phase of its development; in order to avoid some paths which may be sheer surrogates or alternatives of other Western religions, it is needed that its logical-pedagogical perspective may be acknowledged, instead of the spirit of a sect or the last efforts to proselytism. As for the ascetic priest, who may appear in order to spoil individual development and impose Buddhism as a simple form of –ism, Ch’an warns ourselves of him. A "Western Buddhist master", as it were, also says many relevant things on this issue; you may read the third dissertation of Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Moral, which shows a good example of the right attitude toward this character.