Chapter 24: Saying Small Things with Big Words
Huang Po, the ninth century Zen master said, “Ordinary people all indulge in conceptual thought based on environmental phenomena; hence they feel desire and hatred. To eliminate environmental phenomena just put an end to your conceptual thinking. When this ceases, environmental phenomena are void, and when these are void thought ceases. But if you try to eliminate environmental phenomena, first putting a stop to conceptual thought, you will not succeed but merely increase its power to disturb you.”
Beloved Master, would you like to comment on this?
Your question requires a little introduction. Huang Po is a mystic but he is also a philosopher. And that creates complications. He knows what is, but then he starts explaining it the way a philosopher will do, not a mystic.
It is unfortunate, because philosophy is a very much lower category in the world of existential experiences. I have been avoiding Huang Po. Many times it has come up that I should speak on Huang Po, and I looked into his book and each time I decided not, because mysticism needs no philosophical expression; it needs poetry, it needs music, it needs celebration. Dance can be allowed but not philosophy.
And the reason why philosophy cannot be allowed is that the whole world of mysticism is a struggle against philosophy. Now, to try to express mystical experiences in philosophical jargon is to destroy the beauty and the poetry and the music; then you start moving into a desert land where nothing grows.
And I know that Huang Po knows because what he says - although the way he says it is wrong, what he is trying to say is right. Sometimes, the reverse also happens: that the person knows nothing, but what he says is exactly the truth.
Life in this sense is a very complex phenomenon: there are knowers who don’t know and there are innocent people who know. There are very well-trained philosophers, but you cannot get a single drop of truth from their great philosophical treatises. And there are mystics who have simply danced or played on the flute or just sat in silence with their disciples and expressed the inexpressible.
The difficulty with people like Huang Po is that anybody who is interested in intellectual thinking will categorize them as great philosophers - and certainly, they are. But that is not their essence. That is not their very soul. Their very soul is not philosophical; it is not a desert land, it is a garden where roses grow. It is a night full of stars. It is a silence which is the authentic music without any words, without any instruments.
A single gesture of a mystic can say much more than the whole treatise of a great philosopher.
Huang Po has fallen into wrong company. I want to take him out of the wrong crowd he has fallen in. His authentic experience is that of a mystic, but unfortunately he speaks the language of a philosopher, and you will see it even in this small question.
“Ordinary people all indulge in conceptual thought based on environmental phenomena.” One thing you should always remember: that philosophy is a way of saying small things with big words. They don’t travel much, they go round and round. And they feel they are traveling, they are reaching towards some goal.