Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No
more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
In a poem Seng-ts’an writes: “Do not seek the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”
Try this: bring up one of your fondest beliefs and see if you can drop it. Bring up any belief. Try it with a desire–a desire is a belief that when we get something in the future, we will be happy. What is it that you desire right now? Do you want to win the lottery? Do you want someone to love you? Perhaps you love someone who doesn’t love you back? Do you want control or security or approval? Perhaps you want disapproval. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in religion and rituals? Do you consider yourself spiritual? Do you believe that thoughts create reality and the universe will give you what you want? Do you want to save the world? Do you believe you are depressed? Anxious? Do you feel lost?
Whatever your fondest belief or desire is—bring it up. Can you drop this belief? Try to imagine who you would be without this desire. Can you drop this belief or desire temporarily for one minute? If you give it an honest try, you will probably feel a great deal of discomfort or resistance. You don’t even have to try to drop it. Just bring up its opposite. Imagine that you will never get whatever it is that you want. This isn’t hard to do because the opposing belief already exists. A desire can only exist in the context of lack, and beliefs are always supported by doubt. Feel the visceral resistance that comes up in thinking that you will never get whatever it is that you want.
We don’t understand the fundamentalists who defend their dogma with menace and prejudice. That energy however exists in all of us. Try to give up your fondest desire, and you can feel that movement of deep resistance in the gut. There is an instant movement towards rationalization or defensiveness.
Seng-ts’ realized that the attachment to beliefs and ideas is subtle obstacle to direct experience of reality. He also realized that we can’t help but fall into the trap of clinging to ideas. So he suggests in his Zen-like manner: instead of chasing your idea of natural being, just give up cherishing beliefs. Develop reliance only on direct experience instead of clinging to opinions.
Of course, most of us cannot directly subvert beliefs and desires. Awareness and Releasing does it for us by allowing us to see through the structure of belief and desire.
Reality is not what we think it is. Aristotle and Plato, or someone earlier, started the western paradigm that reality is a dualistic subject-object world. There is you and there is perceivable reality. Newton and science solidified this paradigm mathematically. But the paradigm is no longer standing up. Einstein cracked it with special theory of relativity and Quantum Mechanics is the big pink elephant in the paradigm. It won’t go away.
In the east, the paradigm of reality was more gestalt and mosaic. There is a sense of an invisible reality beyond the comprehension of the mind. Hindu and Buddhist traditions are based on what is beyond the mind; but this hasn’t really helped much, because the unexamined mind can’t help but form concepts and complicated ascetic practices and rituals.
Until we experience truth directly, it is a mistake to harbor any beliefs about truth. All we can say is that reality is not what we think it is. It is not the dualistic, separated, subject-object world our mind believes it to be. No more can be said. It can only be experienced directly.
“Cease to cherish opinion.”