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The Clitoris of Zen
Zennuendo & Koan Logic
Let us momentarily counterbalance that whole religious aesthetic of the male ascetic. Put all the “zen patriarchs” aside briefly and we can talk about Koan practice through the metaphor of female sexuality.
Imagine this little organic nub.
This natural, sensitive and variable mini-mound can be rubbed or stroked or licked until a very valuable organic explosion occurs. It’s not mechanical — it doesn’t work the same way every time. Obviously it is easier for some people than for others. This process often operates in tandem with other factors such as emotion, meaning, capacity for surrender, balance of tension and relaxation, etc.
This is the clitoris of Zen.
We don’t rub it with our fingers or tongues. We rub it with Koan practice. And instead of an orgasm, it erupts into Kensho or Satori states. Perhaps it is not located at the delta between her thighs but instead resides in the crotch at the center of your mind or at the root of your heart. Perhaps is part of another anatomy located in a transcendent dimensions nearby…
The central importance of opening the Kensho eye is ambiguous among the Zen lineages. Possibly the life of discipline, growth, flow, witnessing and openness is most important. We should not thwart satori but possibly we should practice indifference toward all events, experiences and states? Not everyone has to have orgasms all the time!
And yet some luminous adepts such as cloud-shrouded Master Hakuin have seemed to assert that without regular attainment of this unique spiritual shift we are reduced merely to “do-nothing pseudo-Zennists".
So although Zen Buddhism cannot be reduced to any one single type of wisdom or experience, it may nevertheless be worthwhile to take a fresh look at the logic and function of Koans. The word means “case” — as in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes or The Mysterious Case of the One-Legged Man. Zen lineages have preserved certain fragments of ancient conversations that they believe both demonstrate transcendental insight AND provide a kind of exercise routine or jungle gym to help produce this insight-power in ourselves.
These exemplary cases all have a certain flavor despite individual variations. There is a roughly common aesthetic and a typical logic — although it is often described as illogical because it works with paradoxes, reversals & contradictions. These objects of pondering are meant to help evoke metanoia and transmit direct wisdom down through the centuries. This is verified or enriched through dialogue with peers and mentors who have also tasted this experience.
But what IS this spiritual orgasm?
And how do the “exemplary cases” rub the ageless clit of the imperishable Buddhamind?
Our own impression of a correct response to Koans is related to our instincts about effort & effortlessness:
Some people feel very strongly that the point of koans is to demonstrate the inadequacy of the rational mind. Therefore accept unknowingness, release mental efforts and either response to life with unreflective immediacy or move into the quiet tranquility of the empty mind.
Others feel very strongly that you must try hard to actually solve the cases in order to initiate these bursts of supreme zen faith in which all questions appear to have already been perfectly answered.
It is this second approach upon which I am commenting. However, given our metaphor, we should consider that great effort is not crudely forceful but rather persistent, repeated, attentive, responsive, etc. The clitoris responds to an organic balance of gentleness and firmness, steadiness and variation, that differs from person to person and moment to moment.
There is a righteous effort, yes, but that work involves going repeatedly back and forth over a mysterious living nub.
To my way of thinking the first person to really clarify this procedure was Lord Whitesnake of the Great Vehicle (Sri Nagarjuna of Mahayana Buddhism). Western scholars have often examined his recorded writings as though they presented an alternative logical system to that of Aristotle in the West. I would argue that, although there is a kind of logic involved, that Lord Whitesnake was concerned not with intellectual systems but rather with the contemplative transmission of illumined consciousness. He is not engaged in the game of refuting analytical philosophical claims by virtue of a strange, fourfold Eastern mentality. Rather he is working out the form of access to a particular psychic eruption.
Is it? Yes, it is, but it also is not. But also it is not both true AND false. However, neither is it not-true and not-false…
This is the stroking of the zen clit. By passing back and forth across the boundary between boundaries-and-no-boundaries we rub the nub. The Zen lineages descend from Lord Whitesnake and the preserved, well-honored “exemplary cases” present multiple versions of this specific form of logic.
It is what we might call nondualism.
Not simply monism (all is one) or any doctrine of universal emptiness, but the specific practice of simultaneously affirming and negating, transcending and including, cancelling without cancelling, the fundamental syntactical boundaries upon which all ontology depends. N’est-ce pas?
Imagine hearing a story (case) that makes no sense but you believe it must somehow make absolutely perfect sense. Every character in the story seems to only say things that refuse to obey specifically the difference between difference & sameness. They insist that infinity is a particular finite thing. They claim that “somewhere” and “everywhere” have switched places. They describe enlightenment as ignorance but still treat it as supreme knowing. Student and teacher switch places without losing their places. Wholeness is suggested by cutting things in half.
Trying to become like Buddha is the opposite of becoming like the Buddha but trying to only try-to-become the Buddha is to already BE the Buddha.
Does universal Being also exist in a Dog?
Saint Kierkegaard said the best reason to believe in Christianity is because it is the least likely thing to be true — for what offers greater faith than the complete impossibility that only a single historical individual was actually the transpersonal, non-historical power of all things?
In all these matters we are closely, viscerally inspecting — living through — the fact of an irresolute reality-boundary coupled with a transcendence of that boundary. It takes both. Neither the transcendence of boundaries nor the absolute power of boundaries is enough to incite a nondual moment. A rub.
Rubbing is active. You must actually try to resolve the tension between impossibility and possibility. You must have a great, hungry force of wanting-to-know. Then you can work with an exemplary case. Inspect it. Ponder it. Look at it from every angle. Test each piece, each character, every remark to see if it reveals supreme wisdom. Undergo the repeated friction of the immovable disconnect between contradiction and non-contradiction. Pass over that specific feature again and again.
Maybe each pass brings you a little closer to the quaking eruption of unshakable understanding…