When we in the west speak of “basic facts of existence” we tend immediately to conceive these facts as reducible to certain austere and foolproof propositions – logical statements that are guaranteed to have meaning because they are empirically verifiable. These are what Bertrand Russell called “atomic facts.” Now for Zen it is inconceivable that the basic facts of existence should be able to be stated in any proposition, however atomic. For Zen, from the moment fact is transferred to a statement it is falsified. One ceases to experience the naked reality of existence and one grasps a form of words instead.

The verification which Zen seeks is not to be found in a dialectical transaction involving the reduction of fact to logical statements and their reflective verification by fact. It may be said that long before Bertrand Russell spoke of `atomic facts’ Zen had split the atom and made its own kind of statement in the explosion of logic into satori (enlightenment). The whole aim of Zen is not to make foolproof statements about experience, but to come to direct grips with reality without the mediation of logical verbalizing.

But what reality? There is certainly a kind of living and non-verbal dialectic in Zen between the ordinary everyday experience of the senses (which is by no means arbitrarily repudiated) and the experience of enlightenment. Zen is not an idealistic rejection of sense and matter in order to ascend to a supposedly invisible reality which alone is real. The Zen experience is a direct grasp of the unity of the invisible and the visible, the noumenal and the phenomenonal or, if you prefer, an experiential realization that any division of them is pure imagination.

 

–Thomas Merton The Golden Age of Zen: Zen Masters of the T’ang Dynasty (Spiritual Masters)

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