The oak tree in the north field came down in a windstorm. It stands inverted in the ripening soya beans, the shredded base blaring a trumpet solo into the sky as the branches hold it up. Systems break down. It’s inevitable. And yet we find ourselves surprised when our favourite selected systems shatter. We’re offended because that system, that process, that particular set of interconnections which was meant to service us, let us down. Even in a farming community, which by definition embodies the never-ending process of births and deaths, neighbours expressed shock and dismay that the oak toppled. Perhaps, it’s only oaks in other communities that are supposed to fall. But NIMBY!
I’ve been starting to feel that way about many things around me. Things that seem to keep toppling over. Saving all beings, transforming inexhaustible delusions, penetrating innumerable dharma doors, embodying the Great Way. Don’t even get me started on the Great Matter and dharma teachers of varied ilk.
Yet, I say, “Oh, this is good – for things to topple over.” A knee jerk response. A good Zen Response. A good Buddhist Response. It parades my familiarity with buzz-word-dharma: impermanence, equanimity, emptiness, not knowing. It even impresses some teachers – who immediately topple over from the weight of my willful ignorance, my refusal to see what’s really in front of me.
The man who cuts down trees looked at the oak and said, “Center’s punky.”
It was an impressive executive summary of the Four Noble Toppling Truths.
It works like this: though we experience Reality directly, we ignore it. Instead, we try to explain it or take hold of it through ideas, models, beliefs, and stories. But precisely because these things aren’t Reality, our explanations naturally never match actual experience. In the disjoint between Reality and our explanations of it, paradox and confusion naturally arise.
If it’s Truth we’re after, we’ll find that we cannot start with any assumptions or concepts whatsoever. Instead, we must approach the world with bare, naked attention, seeing it without any mental bias—without concepts, beliefs, preconceptions, presumptions, or expectations.
Hagen, Steve (2009). Buddhism Is Not What You Think (pp. 4-5).
Harper Collins e-books. Kindle Edition.