The Wisdom of Seeing
Author Steve Hagen on how Zen invites us to experience the truth that lies before us, but eludes the thinking mind.
BY: Interview by Lisa Schneider
Your book seems to say Buddhism isn't what you think but what you see. What exactly does that mean?
I teach Buddhism not as a belief system - of course there are beliefs tied in with it, as human beings we have all kinds of thoughts and ideas and notions. It isn't that Buddhism is without such things.
But in the end if we rely on what we think, what it is that we conceptualize and how we reconstruct the world in our minds -- so often this gets mixed in with our own egoistic desires and that kind of shades our understandings.
Buddhism as I understand it is about cutting through this and getting in touch with our actual, immediate, direct experience. The truth, reality, is not something that forms in the mind as an idea; it is immediate, fresh, every-changing, now. The moment we freeze it out as an idea or a thought or a belief, immediately we're out of touch with the actual experience of the moment.
I'm interested in your emphasis on seeing. I was used to thinking of Buddhist practice in terms of being, and I think that seeing implies a subject and an object, which by extension seems to imply a dualistic understanding of reality...
Well with ordinary seeing -- well like right now I see the telephone that I'm using here or I'm looking at a radio across the room. So I am here as a subject, I see the object over there. That's an ordinary kind of seeing.
The Buddha talked of what our actual experience is as that of not-self. While a sense of self forms in the mind, if we go looking for just what we think this is, we never find it, we never find that subject. For this reason then, I mark "seeing" in italics whenever I put it in to print. I'm not talking about an ordinary physical seeing; I'm talking about an objectless awareness, a realization that is without subject or object, without that dualist split.
Huang Po, the Chinese Zen master, said that the foolish reject what they see -- they reject their immediate direct experience -- and go with what they think, what they believe. This is pretty normal for human beings to do this. Because what we think and believe is so dominant, that's what we're holding to, that's what we form our identity out of. So he says that the foolish reject what they see, not what they think; while the wise reject what they think, not what they see.