With unrest and militia-formation happening now in the US, where a hyper-contentious election season upon us and attempted right-wing coup, there is a near-guarantee of further spiralling into madness, killing, destruction, and bloody social and national confusion. Because the day-to-day confusion has become the default, regression is built right in to our near-future. “Karma inherited from previous behavior cannot be avoided.” Something really really bad seems to be on the verge of bursting out into view.
How do we bridge this social and political abyss that yawns before us?
One day, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen (638–713 CE), Master Hui-Neng, encountered two monks who were having a debate about a banner which was flapping in the wind. One monk declared, “It is the flag that moves.” And the other monk claimed, “No, it is the wind that actually moves.” They debated back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. When the Sixth Patriarch saw this, he approached them and said, “It is not the flag that moves. It is not the wind that moves. It is your minds that are moving.” The monks were completely stuck, and could not continue. This is the true insight into that situation, and into every similar situation or conflict or dispute in our lives.
The nature of true wokeness is Zen. Zen just means “meditation,” and meditation means just-seeing. Moment. Moment. Moment. “Zen has no business with ideas,” as D.T. Suzuki once said. Zen is “observation” as taught by the Buddha Shakyamuni over 2,500 years ago. The word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit terms for “awakened one,” the one who woke up to his/her True Nature. The one who is really “woke.” As we are, even before the words and the arguing appear. Only then, before-thinking. “You need to free your mind, instead.”
As soon as any sort of words or speech appear to describe our reality, that is not true “wokeness.” This whole blog is just a catalogue of sleeping. But if even one tiny part of this sleeping-blog inspires someone to sit down and look deeply into their nature, then it starts to become “woke”, maybe, too. Meaning it doesn’t care — only meditation, and words and images of the culture of “waking up”: Zen.
This “Sixth Patriarch ‘Moving Flag? Moving wind?'” kong-an is very old. Is his wisdom just for something Buddhist or Zen or an ethereal ‘don’t know’ away from our ordinary lives? How do we slice the baby like Solomon, to correctly perceive between these places in the larger conversation where “flag” and “wind” are more serious disputes because one side has GUNS and has no truck with reason? Don’t we need a political revolution to open the space of laws to protect us from each other?
John Lennon — the social activist and martyr to gun violence, too — has some fascinating insight into the path to a “solution”, taking the Sixth Patriarch’s teaching into the crisis with “woke culture” and institutionalised oppression. Who is the real oppressor? Mind:
…You say you’ll change the constitution,Revolution
Well~ you know,
We all want to change your head.
You tell me it’s the institution,
Well~ you know,
You better free your mind instead.
Lennon was in a position I feel very much stuffed into today: A passionate progressive wanting to scream at the so-called “progressives” celebrating all of this (understandably) confrontational, even violent speech and actions.
“Inspired by political protests in early 1968, Lennon’s lyrics expressed sympathy with the need for social change but doubt in regard to the violent tactics espoused by members of the New Left. Despite his bandmates’ reservations, he persevered with the song and insisted it be included on their next single. When released in August, the song was viewed by the political left as a betrayal of their cause and a sign that the Beatles were out of step with radical elements of the counterculture. [My emphasis.] The release of ‘Revolution 1’ in November indicated Lennon’s uncertainty about destructive change, with the phrase “count me out” recorded instead as “count me out – in”. Lennon was stung by the criticism he received from the New Left and subsequently espoused the need for Maoist revolution, particularly with his 1971 single ‘Power to the People‘. In one of the final interviews he gave before his death in 1980, however, he reaffirmed the pacifist sentiments expressed in ‘Revolution'”.[Wikipedia]
Lennon spoke in times so too too too very much like our own: (And these are good progressive hearts, with which I identify most, politically.)
The upheaval reflected the increased politicisation of the 1960s youth movement and the rise of New Left ideology, in a contrast with the hippie ideology behind the 1967 Summer of Love. For these students and activists, the Maoist philosophy of cultural revolution, purging society of its non-progressive elements, provided a model for social change.[ Wikipedia ]
You better free your mind instead.
The Sixth Patriarch of Zen (638–713) and John Lennon really taught the same thing: It’s not the flag/the constitution, it’s not the wind/the institution — it’s all about our minds that are moving. Only when we change THIS is world peace possible. The straightest way to that is wordless Zen. The real woke.
[[[ By the way, after the above video was first posted on YouTube, an early commentary wrote “Politics will spoil the teaching”. This might have been sparked by the images in this video of rioting in the American streets recently, flaming police cars. It is a valid point about not “mixing” Dharma teachings with some political judgement or assessment. And that is a valid point. But when I read that comment, while agreeing with its sincerity, what suddenly appeared in my head was this image of Dae Soen Sa Nim teaching in Poland during the uprising against Community rule there. He has clearly attached a “Solidarity” pin to his own formal robes! And this by a refugee from what is now a Communist North Korea, in then-communist Poland, he fully showed where he stood on the civil unrest then rocking the country, while teaching. A very interesting moment.
Change the Constitution? Change the Institution? Pointing straight to mind-only is the complete way. ]]]