Sunday, January 20, 2013

the highway to relief

The Zen Buddhist teacher Ta Hui (1089-1163) once said approximately, "I have always taken a great vow that I would rather spend my life in hell for all eternity than to portray Zen as a human emotion."

Given the sorrows and confusions of this life, it is perhaps understandable that spiritual formats would hawk their wares in the form of "relief." My own sense is that there is no other choice: How else could the sorrowful and confused and fearful understand what was possible? "Relief" would be such a relief in wracked and wrestling times.

As I say, I see nothing wrong with selling snake oil, with hawking relief. But as a lifelong diet, as something to embrace and rely on and grow old with, what once was a minor fib is given leave to become a full-blown and full-grown lie -- a wracking confusion every bit as sorrowful and piercing as the sorrows and confusions that led to buying snake oil in the first place. When the medicine only adds another layer of sickness, what sort of medicine is that?

Relief ... spiritual formats ... deep devotion ... snake oil for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pedal to the metal. Dive deep!

Ta Hui also counseled one of his students in a letter, "Stop seeking for relief." Here is the usefulness of snake oil "relief," the pointers of spiritual formats: In seeking for relief, the possibility cannot help but crop up in a troubled but determined heart ... an actualized understanding that snake oil, while deliciously inviting, simply cannot work. 

There is no relief. 

And, far from instilling a cold and distant indifference, such an actualized understanding is really ...

Quite a relief.

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