Dhyana, Chan and Zen.


Following is an excerpt from a book titled: “Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance – An inquiry into values” by Robert M. Pirsig, Page 177.

Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. The illusion of separation of subject from object is best removed by the elimination of physical activity, mental activity and emotional activity. There are many disciplines for this. One of the most important is the Sanskrit “dhyana”, mispronounced in Chinese as “Chan” and again mispronounced in Japanese as “Zen”.

The above is a very insightful comment from the Vedic Philosophy. It is indeed true that the subject “I” – the consciousness – remains in unison with the object “I” – the perception of who I am as a result of my experiences. The differences between the two – the subject (who I am) and the object (who I think I am) – exist as long as we do not understand the nature of the connection between the two. The analogy often cited is that of the lotus leaf (I – the Consciousness) which lives and thrives in the body of water (I – the cognitive universe) and yet remains disconnected or untainted by the water. The living and growth of the lotus leaf in water as well as its remaining untainted by the same body of water are all governed by the laws of nature. Similarly, the perception and all experiences of the cognitive world are also governed by appropriate laws of nature. One who understands that everything exists merely as representations of the laws of nature begins to see that the subject and the object nature of “I” are merely a matter of perception. We have outlined in detail the connectors, the basis of all our experiences and how to identify them, in several of our earlier essays. This is the logic or reasoning for the anatomy of our experiences. One, who understands this connection in any aspect of our cognitive world, also sees the difference between the subject and the object, merely as the result of the interplay of the three connectors (our knowledge, bias and ignorance) pertinent to that subject matter. Such understanding of this connection removes the illusion of the separation between the subject “I” and the object “I”. This requires an intense focus or concentration on the connectors and how to decipher them. This is the goal of “Dhyana” or internal reflection. It is best practiced as meditation, followed by reflection and contemplation. This is the discipline of “Dhyana” referred to by the author, in the above quote.

But, the above quote would also seem to suggest that through “Dhyana” we are seeking something that is other than “logic” or reasoning driven. It also seems to suggest that the goal of Dhyana, Chan or Zen is to minimize all activities. This in my view seems to miss the main point.

Logic is a process of reasoning. Understanding of causal relations is the outcome.

Once the outcome is realized, the process seems irrelevant. Once we have reached the destination, the journey – the process – may not be relevant any more. Only in this manner of speaking, one would say that “logic is not the final wisdom”.

Causal relations or the laws of nature are the connectors that link the subject with the object. In our analytical process of understanding the laws of nature at play, it is easier to focus on one experience at a time, since our reasoning may be less clouded and our focus much sharper.  Dhyana, Chan or Zen is the processes which facilitates such focus and concentration. The goal of Dhyana is not withdrawal, isolation and the life of a recluse. This view may be completely counter to the reality and suggestions from these philosophy. Through seclusion and elimination of many activities (physical, mental and intellectual) one could minimize the number of activities that create distractions. This helps to focus or concentrate on one subject matter at a time.

Logic is the intellectual process of reasoning. It seeks the causal relations. Dhyana is a physical process that conditions your mind for a deep and sustained analysis – the logic – of “who am I?”  Such intellectual introspection becomes easier when it is facilitated by minimizing the number of activities we are engaged in. But, if one can infer for oneself even for a fraction of the moment and comprehend that I am merely a product of the laws of nature at work, then he/she can instantly understand the indivisible nature of  “everything you think you are” and “everything you think you perceive that you are”. The oriental approaches of Dhyana, Chan or Zen are means to facilitate this logical understanding of who we are and who we perceive we are, why the congruence occurs when it does and why divergences occur, when they do? The practices of withdrawal, seclusion and minimization of physical, mental and emotional activities are more of a means to this end. They are not the end in themselves. Nor do they need to be thought of as pre-requisites.

This understanding of the basic principle – that the enabler (laws of nature) and the enabled (the cognitive world of objects, emotions and thoughts) remain integral with each other – could occur in an instant. Such realization may pertain to a given activity, a collection of activities or as a life long principle. In every one of these situations enlightened living is the outcome. In this approach, enlightened living is closer at hand for all to experience, rather than as a reward only for the few who take to reclusive and monastic way of life. Such understanding also brings us closer to another Vedic guideline, that we all exist as evidences of enlightenment all the time, but we recognize that reality only during those rare moments, when we remove the veil of ignorance in our thought process.

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