(© RKP, 1963)
Perhaps anyone sufficiently qualified can sit down and write a book dealing with any aspect of human knowledge and maintain that it states categorically the truth in so far as it is known at the time at which he writes. That can be done where objective understanding is concerned. But here objective understanding is not the aim in view, for objective understanding is a dead-end and leads nowhere. That is the reason why the great Masters never methodically taught it. That is the reason why they invariably sought to manoeuvre their disciples into turning round in the right direction, so that they might one day apprehend the truth for themselves, and subjectively. That truth is always present, and is always exactly where we are.
Occasionally, however, particularly when they were questioned by high officials of the state, they offered objective knowledge, and that is of incalculable value to us, for we have no living Masters at hand to manoeuvre us into turning round in the right direction, so that we have no alternative but to find out how to do that ourselves; and that can only be done when we have acquired a high degree of dualistic understanding. Such understanding, however, is not an end, but a beginning only, or, if you like, it is the terminus from which the train sets forth that leads directly to our destination, for, henceforth, we may be said to run on rails, in the sense that the road home from objectivity to subjectivity is straight and direct, if it can be followed. This is the 'chemin' of which Shen Hui speaks so often, the 'way' which, once 'obtained', leads directly to the goal.
Therefore in this little book we continue the journey during which the truth that can never be written is gradually approached by intuition rendered dualistically. As one closes in on that truth that which has been described vaguely is subsequently described more accurately and more fully, and that which was imperfectly comprehended is corrected by that which has later been understood. Only the awakened can say definitely whatever it may be possible to say without error.
The methods of the Masters are illustrated by the saying: 'To acquire understanding at the hands of others is to close the gates of self-enlightenment.' Nothing could be more clearly or tersely expressed, and the explanation, of course, is that the understanding thus acquired is necessarily objective understanding. In fact my understanding is valueless to you, quite necessarily so, even it be the correct understanding. Perhaps that is not clear, but it is a fact. In objective science my understanding, if it were correct, would be perfectly valid for you and you could take it from me if it were adequately expressed. But this understanding is not of that kind, and it cannot be transferred or transmitted. It can only be pointed at, and you have to find your own way to it yourself. Phenomenally, dualistically, you can be led to within 'sight' of it, but only yourself can 'see' it. Even that is metaphorical, for the truth can never be 'seen', for seeing is objective. That too is looking in the wrong direction, and even when you look in the right direction you will see nothing, that is void, for looking itself is objective and must be abandoned.
Discouraging? Not really. After all, if it were easy should we not all be Buddhas?
I have expressed my view that since we have no fully-awakened Masters available to manoeuvre us into the correct orientation, we must proceed via objective understanding. Alas, we have no living Masters available in the West at present, as far as I am aware, but we have the great awakened Masters of the past whose words have been preserved, and we have the sutras, in particular the supreme Prajnaparamita sutras. Alas, they are not easy; alas, the translations - for which, nevertheless we should be humbly grateful - are not quite satisfactory; and alas, we do not study them as we might. My view, for anything that it may be worth, is that to all intents and purposes we have nothing else that matters. It is our misfortune that Chinese pictograms are devoid of grammar and syntax, that most words have many meanings, and that only someone who has fully understood the meaning of the text could really be qualified to translate it. Beyond that, many Masters spoke in local dialect, their very method tended towards slang or 'argot' the sense of which can only be guessed, and they no doubt used many common words in a special technical sense that is difficult to recover. All that is our burden, and we must bear it as best we may.
We are not helped by our own regrettable tendencies to misuse our own words. Take, for instance 'meditation'. Exactly what the more qualified people who use it mean by it I do not know, but we all know what the normal man means by it. St. John of the Cross, an Enlightened Christian whose understanding is in perfect conformity with that of the oriental Masters, defines it clearly: he says, 'meditation, which is discursive mental activity by means of images, forms and figures that are produced imaginatively', and he goes on to say that it is the first thing to be got rid of. The great Masters said exactly the same, in fact that may be said to be the focal-point of their teaching, and, even if they had not said it, anyone who understands what they require of us must rapidly see it for himself. Yet, presumably because it is one of the meanings found in a Sanscrit dictionary for the word Dhyana, we are faced with practically nothing but that 'method' of 'attaining' enlightenment. Of course anyone can take any word and declare that he uses it to mean the opposite, but really that does not seem to be a very good idea, nor one that is calculated to help the struggling pilgrim. The real meaning of Dhyana is well-enough known, though no single word covers it in our languages; of these 'awareness' is the nearest, implying a vivid state of consciousness free of all 'abiding' or mentation of any kind.*
Alas, there are many other such words, not least the unfortunate 'Zen'. One may have the highest possible regard for the Japanese development of Ch'an, but Zen is that, and nothing else whatever. Moreover Ch'an is not dead, did not die when the doctrine was carried over to Japan; that piece if propaganda is no longer tenable now that we know of the great Ch'an Masters, including Han Shan who restored the monasteries, down to the grand old Master - Ancestor, as they call him - Hsu Yun who died last year at the age of 119. They preserved in far greater purity the teaching and methods of the T'ang Masters, and when we turn to them we find in them a revelation, and it is surely as inaccurate as it is absurd to apply to them and their teaching the Japanese term 'Zen' which represents a tradition considerably different. Whatever propaganda and commerce may wish, serious students and scholars should use words in their proper sense.
As for terms such as 'self-nature' that has rarely, if ever, anything to do with what we think of as 'self', for it indicates nothing personal, but subjective mind in the non-dual sense of subjectivity; the words 'mind', 'One Mind', 'No-Mind', etc. rarely have the objective meaning we normally give them, and just as wu nien does not just mean 'no thought', wu wei does not imply 'inaction' but, rather, 'spontaneity', so 'chih' does not usually mean 'knowledge', and 'prajna' does not always or even perhaps often mean what we think of as 'wisdom'.
If this is borne in mind the true sense of the words of the Awakened Masters will rapidly become clearer, and if we re-read them every six months or so we will reap an even richer harvest of understanding, until, finally, we too will have fully and perfectly understood.
* The Lama Anagarika Govinda defines it variously as 'intuitive vision', 'inner awareness', spiritual awareness'. Without in any way comparing a definition with his, the sense in which I use it in this book is just non-objective awareness. As substitutes for 'meditation' - 'contemplation' and 'concentration' are equally unhappy: anyone who understands will immediately see why this must be so.