WHEN KNOWLEDGE WENT NORTH
Knowledge wandered north
Looking for Tao, over the Dark Sea,
And up the Invisible Mountain.
There on the mountain he met
Non-Doing, the Speechless One.
“Please inform me, Sir,
By what system of thought
And what technique of meditation
I can apprehend Tao?
By what renunciation
Or what solitary retirement
May I rest in Tao?
Where must I start,
What road must I follow
To reach Tao?”
Such were his three questions.
Non-Doing, the Speechless One,
Made no reply.
Not only that,
He did not even know
How to reply!
Knowledge swung south
To the Bright Sea
And climbed the Luminous Mountain
Called “Doubt’s End.”
Here he met
Act-on-Impulse, the Inspired Prophet,
And asked the same questions.
“Ah,” cried the Inspired One,
“I have the answers, and I will reveal them! ”
But just as he was about to tell everything,
He forgot all he had in mind.
Knowledge got no reply.
So Knowledge went at last
To the palace of Emperor Ti,
And asked his questions of Ti.
“To exercise no-thought
And follow no-way of meditation
Is the first step toward understanding Tao.
To dwell nowhere
And rest in nothing
Is the first step toward resting in Tao.
To start from nowhere
And follow no road
Is the first step toward attaining Tao.”
Knowledge replied: “You know this
And now I know it. But the other two,
They did not know it.
What about that?
Who is right?”
Only Non-Doing, the Speechless One,
Was perfectly right. He did not know.
Act-on-Impulse, the Inspired Prophet,
Only seemed right
Because he had forgotten.
As for us,
We come nowhere near being right,
Since we have the answers.
“For he who knows does not speak,
He who speaks does not know”
And “The Wise Man gives instruction
Without the use of speech.”
This story got back
Who agreed with Ti’s
Way of putting it.
It is not reported
That Non-Doing ever heard of the matter
Or made any comment. [Version by Thomas Merton]
This is the classic tale wherein the spirit of Chuang-Tzu meets the spirit of Lao Tzu. A better translation for Mr. Knowledge is “Knowinghood” (Ziporyn), or that personification of one who is incessantly in search of being in the know. Actually Knowinghood begins his quest precisely where he needs to be. “Wandering North”, “Over the [Mysterious] Dark Sea, “Up the [imageless] Invisible Mountain”, Mysterious is included in other translations and [imageless] is being employed as an element of Unborn Mind Zen. North is the direction of that which is barren, empty of all created attributes; mysterious Dark Sea implies the utter depth of the Tao (Unborn); imageless Mountain is entering into the greatest of all Mystical Heights; indeed, all these bespeak the Clearlight of the Tao (Unborn) that is forever hidden from prying eyes. The sole non-inhabitant of this no-place is “Non-doing, the Speechless One.” I love what Chuang-Tzu (or, in this case his devoted disciples) is writing here, because it has to do with that “not-doing”, or Wu-Wei. Not-doing, Not-Speaking, because there’s No-body there to do any doing. This is non-other than the Imageless-Spirit of the Tao (Unborn) Itself. Before one gets lost here, “imageless” does not denote invisibility, it essentially encompasses not any-created thingness (thing, shape-form, formlessness, and ideation).
Knowinghood begs the questions: “what kind of thoughts, disciplines, mortifications and meditations must I be about in order to understand, to know, to rest in the Tao?” Of course, the Imageless Tao remains silent; this (like Vimalkirti’s Noble-Silence) is the best answer, but Knowingwood simply does not get it precisely because he’s still trying to get it. What’s more here, Non-doing the Speechless One doesn’t even “know” how to reply to such a question—there is no knowledge in the Tao!
There are wide-variables as to where Knowinghood turns next. Merton writes “climbed the Luminous Mountain, called ‘Doubts End.’” Others are “the Peak of No Doubt”, or simply “up the hill on the Southern Bank”. Perhaps the one common element—that of a Southern Direction—can be of some help: It’s the opposite of the Northern, or placeless-place of hidden-gnosis, because the inhabitant of the Southern Bank could really be called the superficial “Mr. No-It-All”; the various translations are explicit here, “Wild the Witless”; “Wild and Twisty”, and Merton’s “Act on Impulse”. They’re all indicative of the predominantly book-learned ones, what I like to term “scabby-scholars”; perhaps this is why Merton’s choice of Luminous in this context is apropos, because this is the region of the false-luminaries, the agents of false-gnosis, the land of the fakir’s, ect. In any case the response to Knowinghood’s question is pretty self-evident here, “Ahhh, I know, I know!!! Now let us see—oops, I seem to have forgot!” Precisely Chuang-Tzu’s point—this false gnosis is better left forgotten!
For many in Chuang Tzu’s time the “Yellow-Emperor” was the epitome of a hidden deity who was transformed into a human. It is this Emperor who Knowinghood returns back to in hopes of a sufficient answer to his questions. The answers he supplies “Don’t think at all! Just exercise no-thought and follow–no-way of meditation-this is the first step toward understanding Tao. Just dwell nowhere and never rest in any-thing—this is the real first step in resting in Tao! To begin from nowhere and not following any road—this is the first step in attaining Tao!” Great inner-wisdom here, but it comes nowhere close to “Non-Doing, the Speechless One”, for as the Yellow Emperor says, “We think we have the answers! But, truly ‘he who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know.’ ” Thus, Chuang-Tzu’s Spiritual kinship with Lao-Tzu strikes a harmonious chord.
Some Zen people have a favorite motto, “Only Don’t Know.” This acts like a koan in that it quiets-down the anxious mind with its conflicting thoughts and emotions; if one doesn’t have an understanding of something, then the best response is “don’t know”. In principle this works perfectly fine, in particular the early Korean variety, yet when taken to extremes it just becomes another Osho-like trick of what in popular zen culture is known as the “No-mind.” What occurs is that this becomes a namby-pamby kind of notion that really blankets what the best of Zen has to offer—namely the Mind-Only schools of Ch’an-Zen Buddhism. Here, the best response, like Non-Doing the Speechless One, is simply no-response—just Vimalakirti’s Noble Silence, a completely imageless Self-Realization. One cannot throw-out Buddha-gnosis with fancy fads like Only Don’t Know; indeed, such notions do not know the true substance of the Buddhadharma. This Buddha-gnosis is not akin to the understanding of _gnosis_ as conventional knowledge. The gnosis of which we speak in Unborn Mind Zen is like darkness to the senses, yet a very vivifying and Luminous Light for the spirit. This is not the same principle as what is found in conventional-spiritualities that offer literature like The Cloud of Unknowing; many times this becomes translated as “not-knowing”, meaning that no-one can possibly know the Absolute as it is in Itself. This is where it becomes critical, because while the Essence of the Absolute cannot be known in conventional understanding, It Is known AS ITSELF in the spiritual-womb of the adroit adept of Unborn Mind Zen. This is a far cry from that which is associated with the Cloud of Unknowing, or the “cloud of forgetting”, which in truth is a hypoaroused-state (trophotrophic)—a cognitive event of reduced physiological sensitivity (Forman, Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness). When push comes to shove this notion is “still a state”, whereas in proper Buddha-gnosis IT IS Self-Realized as primordially a stateless-state—a Supra-Epiphany.
Now, do you get all of this? If not, that’s fine. You see, as Chuang-Tzu would say, I can’t color your perspective, anymore than you can color what is a supraessential expression that is ascertained after much Spiritual-Cultivation in the Unborn. Perhaps it is that you will never share from the “One Cup of Tathatic Mind Cultivation”, but as n yeti expressed the other day, one can simply “come with an open as possible mind, take from it what one can, adapt as needed, or discard portions that are not needed or detract from what one is observing.” That by and large sums-up what the Chuang-Tzu spirit is all about. While what is being offered here is not attuned with mass social-media, it is based on core-principles that are part and parcel of the Buddhadharma throughout the millennium. We don’t get thousands of hits each day, but we do have a respectable showing. Demographically our blog has a “World-Wide” following; there are over 500 visits each day, and while a portion of those are from Spam Robots, the majority—roughly 450 daily visits, are from bona-fide interested and mostly returning sources. Recently we received an email from the “World Association of Buddhism” congratulating us on our fine efforts here at Unborn Mind Zen. The vast majority of visitors here “do not express themselves openly on the board”, but they are nonetheless very much present in that silent-spirit of “Non-doing and Speechless One” himself; and as our demographics show, with a growing and ongoing continued interest in what Tathagatagarbha Unborn Mind Zen has to offer in this Dharma-ending Age.