The emperor asked, "Who stands before me?"
Bodhidharma said, "I don't know."
Not for the first time I read these lines excerpted from the Zen Buddhist tale of the legendary Bodhidharma and wonder if the teachers of the past -- those on whom others hang words like "wise" and "profound" and "deeeeep" -- were not just being honest. Just honest. Not holy. Not profound. Not worthy of getting anyone's knickers in a spiritual twist about.
It doesn't interest me to consider whether Bodhidharma was a real man or a figment of someone's over-active imagination. What interests me is whether the words have a resonance and instruction I am willing to ingest. Maybe so, maybe not ... there is no imperative either way, even for dyed-in-the-wool Zen Buddhists.
If a friend asked, "where did I leave my glasses?" anyone might say simply "I don't know." Isn't that just the simple truth of things. No big deal. Just the truth. No one would be surprised or overawed or fall down in some delectable swoon. No one would run out and make an insistent fetish out of "don't know" mind. What the fuck ... someone knows or they don't.
The woo-hoo emperor asks the woo-hoo exponent of Buddhism, "who stands before me?" And the other guy, in this case Bodhidharma, says "I don't know." No need for woo-hoo's -- Bodhidharma just doesn't know. That's all. That's the truth. That's Bodhidharma being honest.
Increasingly, I think this is the way of spiritual advisers of the past. Their words or their alleged words are just the best they can do. Maybe they were playing their own version of dig-my-spiritual-wisdom -- the kind of stuff that latter-day spiritual spokesmen can employ ... but I choose to think it was just a matter of telling their best truth, a truth that only later was referred to as "truth." How many fingers do you have on your right hand? Five. Where is the movie theater? Two stoplights down and hang a left. How do I attain enlightenment? Drink your tea, dear.
OK... there are marvelous things. Just don't imagine they are marvelous.
The traffic light turns red. Stop. The traffic light turns green. Go.
Leave the wisdom and woo-hoos to the nitwits.