Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Blyth Questions the Bottle

The Reading:

Blyth:  What would Isan have done the second time?  I once grumbled, to a monk, at the Roshi's telling the same joke at every lecture, until I just waited all through it to see if the joke would be repeated.  The monk said to me, "You should laugh every time he tells the story."  Perhaps I should, but I can't, and anyway, every time the same question is asked it must have a different answer.  The point of this problem is not so much what Isan should or would do on a second, similar occasion, when the bottle was placed there on the floor, as to emphasize the fact that though every Zen action is perfect, when it is repeated it must be more perfect, (a verbal impossibility which itself has some Zen in it.)  "look before you leap" is not a Zen proverb, nor is , "Look while you are leaping", or, "Look after you have leaped."  It is Mussolini who said to the British ambassador, when their motor-car had run over a child, "Never look back!"  We must never look back, it is true, never look forward "and pine for what is not," never look at what we are doing at the moment, but always look back-now-forward.
-Blyth, Mumonkan


I don't disagree with Blyth here, but that isn't to say he is completely right.  For example, the easiest way is the easier way: Is the joke funny?  When anyone says, "must never" that is hardly ever right (or useful).  What, never?  No.  Never.  What, never?  Well, hardly ever.

I don't know what Blyth was thinking when he wrote this, but I would offer him the easier way: It is not a matter of Never, it is a matter of non-ever.  If you attach to then or now or soon, then you have lost the way.  You can be in the then or now or soon, and as long as you are just visiting and not renting a room, then you are there, not because you should or shouldn't be, but because you are, and what of it?  Anywhere you are, if you aren't attached to it, is the same as anywhere else.  Gutei's Zen of One Finger was never used up, so who is to say that Isan would tell a different joke the second time?

There you have it then.  Questions assume answers.  There is no question of what Isan would do a second time, because there was no second time - there is only a second time in Blyth's imagination, and was-is-will be there only because, when Blyth imagined it, he attached to it, he carried it around with him like a pretty girl, and he desired an answer.

The only answer to Blyth's question, and to all such questions, is Mu.  But don't say it twice. Then you are just imitating Ummon.