Two monks are arguing. Huineng appears on the stage and offers a paradigm shift. The monks are struck with awe. Both monks. Both positions disintegrate. The exchange, predictable and dull, suddenly becomes electrified. A dose of truth serum has been injected into lifelessness. Unstuck, the monks are vulnerable, hovering within a possibility. A completely different way of seeing the nature of movement and stillness, the nature of mind, becomes available to them. Fearful or exhilarated, they may be able to come back to a new life.
This moment for the monks is like any moment when an event brings to light the attachments that have disappeared into the habit patterns of our bodies and minds, or into the network of mutually held, “confirmed” biases. Someone turns on the light and you see the place for the first time. In the 15th century, Copernicus disturbed our centrality on a cosmic scale. He stopped the sun and got the Earth revolving. What was that like for him at the moment when he actually perceived it? What was the shift of the collective mind that followed? What was it like to abandon our special position in the universe and in our psyche and relocate to a more peripheral site? In retrospect, this may seem like purely a matter of scientific insight, yet everything changed in that particular moment.
We innately and intuitively want to be real because we reside within unblemished and undistorted reality. It is as if reality was continuously bleeding through into our confusion, nudging us from within. Our intimations of that which is not true are based within what is already accessible and undeniable. Questioning and doubt arise somewhere within the depths of the tension of these realities.
For the two monks, Huineng’s intervention is a slap of reality. Not just a shift with respect to seeing the universe, or seeing the nature of movement, or relativity and subjectivity. Huineng is not settling for any provisional correction. He wants to disturb to the core, and at the same time to reveal, to point to what can be relied on. To what each person can rely on. He reconfigures the nature of how we see, turning us inside out. He reflects on the nature of the mind, the nature of the experience where the observer has to disappear. Now what? What happens when we look deeply into the nature of the one who sees? What is that?
An encounter between Ruiyan and Yantou echoes this event. Ruiyan asked Yantou, “What is the fundamental, constant principle?” Yantou said, “Moving.” Ruiyan said, “When moving, what then?” And Yantou responded, “You don’t see the fundamental principle.” You do not see the not-seeing. You do not see the one who does not see. What is that reality? What has come to rest at that moment, and what is it that’s moving? Resting within those questions is already the beginning of that paradigm shift, of that reality revealing itself.