Saturday, September 24, 2011

On Reading the Diamond Sutra

            The other day I was complaining to a friend about my confusion and frustration in beginning to read the Diamond Sutra, one of the seminal texts of the Mahayana tradition.  George and I are thinking of offering a study/dialogue group to explore this sutra and I thought I’d better get a head start.  But as I started to read these unfamiliar words translated from ancient Chinese and Sanskrit, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of my own stupidity and dullness.  These celebrated words of the Buddha lay limp and incomprehensible on the page, refusing me any way in.  Then I realized that I must be a poor excuse of a Zen teacher – one who can’t even make sense of the basic texts of the tradition.
            My friend quickly and cheerfully clarified the matter for me.  She said “Oh, you must just be a stupid Zen teacher.”  This made me laugh and breath a great sigh of relief.  The burden of expectation was lifted.  I quickly saw that I can easily be an excellent stupid Zen teacher – perhaps one of the very best.    I just have to be myself.  Then I know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know.  The words that make sense with my experience make sense.  The words that don’t, don’t.
            So I am continuing my investigation into the Diamond Sutra, but with a new perspective.  Reading as a stupid Zen master, my incomprehension is not a problem, but rather a starting point.  I can now notice whatever arises rather than invest my energy in self-judgment and striving.  
            I’m now on about the fourth line.  I’ve settled down with the Buddha after he has come back from his daily begging in town.  I’ve bowed at his feet, circled around him three times in a clockwise fashion, and begun to listen to his strange voice from across the centuries.  Being rather dull, I don’t expect to understand much, but I'm hoping that just being here is enough.

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