November 3, 2004

New Use of Language: Part Four, Condemned

"There is a Barrier of crucial importance. In front of it sit a row of stern officials, each of whom is there to test the ability of those who wish to negotiate the Barrier. Unless you pass their muster, you don't get through.

"Along comes a man, announcing that he is a wheelwright. He sits down, fashions a wheel, shows it to the officials, and they let him pass. Another person walks up, an artist. He produces a brush and paints them a picture. They usher him through the gates. A singing girl is allowed to pass after she sings them a refrain from one of the current songs. She is followed by a priest of one of the Pure Land sects. He intones loud invocations of the Nembutsu - 'Namu-amida-butsu,' 'Namu-amida-butsu.' The gates swing open and he proceeds on his way.

"At this point, another man clothed in black robes appears. He says that he is a Zen monk. One of the guardians of the Barrier remarks that 'Zen is the crowning pinnacle of all the Buddhas.' He then asks: 'What is Zen?'

"All the monk can do is stand there, in a blank daze, looking like a pile of brushwood. The officials take one look at the nervous sweat pouring from under his arms and write him off as a rank impostor. A highly suspicious and totally undesirable character. So he winds up as a poor devil of an outcast, condemned to a wretched existence outside the Barrier."

Hakuin, trans. Norman Waddell

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