Chapter 16: The Courage to Say “I Don’t Know”
And the conclusion? The conclusion is that it is only a belief. It cannot be said with certainty, that two plus two makes four. It is a utilitarian concept. It is good, workable, but Bertrand Russell has not been left unchallenged - even on that. Another mathematician, Godel, challenged it. Because Godel says there is no possibility of two plus two being four. There is no possibility at all. And Godel has the same quality of genius as Bertrand Russell. He is not in any way a smaller genius - perhaps a greater genius. His argument is very clear and Bertrand Russell has not been able to answer it.
Godel argues that you can put two chairs and two chairs together and naturally, there are four chairs. but two in itself is just an abstract symbol. Two chairs is another matter. Two is just a concept. It is as hypothetical as God, or the devil. Have you seen two anywhere? Have you met with two and said hello? Have you ever seen two with two meeting and hugging each other?
And Godel’s criticism is that two things in existence are never exactly the same; something is always different. You cannot find two people the same; you cannot find even two leaves in the whole forest exactly the same. Then how can two leaves which are not equal, together with two other leaves which are also not equal, be four? They can be three, they can be five, they can be anything, but not four!
And I understand Godel is right. Of course my understanding comes from a totally different dimension. To me, Godel is more appealing because that makes existence mysterious. You cannot even count on such simple answers as two and two are four. Everything is pragmatic. But as far as reality is concerned, it remains unknowable.
So you have to remember this. I will go through the answers of Bodhidharma, but it is not the answer. It may be useful to go into it: it may help you to understand something else but it is not the answer to the question.
But it is not Bodhidharma’s fault. There is no answer. His only fault is that he is not recognizing that he doesn’t know. And I cannot forgive him for that because I love him and I respect him and I wanted him to be sincere. Had he said, “I don’t know,” he would have risen far above the thousands of other mystics and buddhas and bodhisattvas and arhatas. He would have become absolutely unique, but he could not manage.
The ignorant mind, with its infinite afflictions, passions and evils, is rooted in the three poisons: greed, anger and delusion. These three poisoned states of mind themselves include countless evils, like trees that have a single trunk but countless branches and leaves. Yet each poison produces so many more millions of evils that the example of a tree is hardly a fitting comparison.
The three poisons are present in our six sense organs as six kinds of consciousness, or thieves. They’re called thieves because they pass in and out of the gates of the senses, covet limitless possessions, engage in evil and mask their true identity..
But if someone cuts off their source, rivers dry up. And if someone who seeks liberation can turn the three poisons into the three sets of precepts and the six thieves into the six paramitas, he rids himself of affliction once and for all.