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5-07-07 - Reflections on a woman trying on bathing suits in a dressing room.
I was just reading Jim Wilson's Luminous Darkness: a Commentary on the Mystical Theology of Dionysius the Areopagite (unpublished ms) whom he describes as a Western Nagarjuna proclaiming a teaching of emptiness beyond conceptualizing. Reading Jim's comments on Dionysius's statement that his affirmations and negations of the names of god are not mutually exclusive ("We should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations."), Jim tells of John the Scot in 800 or so explaining this transcendental negation something like this:
The ultimate is naked and beyond conception and cannot be named or described - no words apply. Yet the awakened wish to communicate to others this nakedness. And so, in a sense, they adorn it, they dress it up, they say something which indicates something to the listener by way of hinting or metaphor or parable or analogy. But it shouldn't be stuck to so whatever was said is then taken away. So the naked ultimate is dressed and then undressed, affirmed and then negated in a way wherein the affirmation and negation are a single act. Dionysius does insist on that order - it won't work to negate first and then affirm. And so did Mahayana Buddhism by having all those teachings that are learned and then seen as empty with emptiness also being empty.
There would be so many ways to visualize wrapping and unwrapping the ultimate. I see a beautiful woman in a dressing room trying on bathing suits. Why a beautiful woman? Oh, that's just the first thing that came to mind - "First thought best thought," Shunryu Suzuki. Why bathing suits? Because they are worn without underwear so the woman can be naked, ultimate. Oh puritans and anti-idolaters, please allow my sensuous image. I know it is but another affirmation to be denied, another creation to uncreate, but no more so than any other idea of the word "ultimate," no matter how subtle, lofty, pure. Whatever comes to mind, let it pass - that's dressing and undressing.
As Shunryu Suzuki said, in zazen we let thoughts come in the front door and go out the back. We just don't serve them tea. I can't remember the exact quote. But I remember this one:
Don't stick to some idea.
Jim Wilson, incidentally, also having been known as Tundra Wind - not sure about now - he's written poetry with that name - Google it - anyway, he runs Many Rivers Books and Tea in Sebastopol, California, a great book and tea store.
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