Sunday, October 20, 2013

Not Zen 81: The Simplest Understanding

A teacher and one of his students strolled through a park as they discussed the concept of the lack of distinction between places.  The student said she understood how there could be no 'here' or 'there'.  She said she thought it meant there should be no distinction between compass directions either since they can all be the same direction.

"I feel that I know this," she said.  "And I know that many religious figures agree on the concept.  But last month in school, you gave me demerits for my failure to understand.  Then, just yesterday, you admitted that your old teacher also failed to understand the same thing.  Why did you revere her?  You say that she experienced the same failure I've suffered."

"Perhaps for 'failure to understand' I should substitute 'degree of understanding' or 'way of understanding.'"  The teacher hopped across a rivulet of water onto an expanse of grass. His student followed.  "Do you not see that everyone's understanding, even in the failure to truly appreciate a concept, is different?"


"Very well." He stopped where he was. "Let's use an simpler example."

"That ball!" suggested the student.  She pointed to a small, red and white object they had been approaching for some time.

"A ball?  Well, I'll try."  He continued on his way until he reached it.  Then he picked up the ball from the grass and considered it for a few seconds.  "This is a mundane thing, of course.  But as humble as it is, can anyone truly understand it?"

"Everyone can."

"Really?  Look at it.  Tell me how it was made."

"I don't know.  Okay, so maybe I don't understand it.  I can see it has a stitched cover.  Someone or some machine sewed it shut.  It has tooth marks marring the cover, too.  I think that dog over there was playing with it."

"Right.  So let's use the dog, you, the fellow who made this ball, and the person who designed it.  All of you have some understanding of the ball, yes?"

"I suppose," the student looked down and crossed her feet.  She seemed uncomfortable with the inclusion of the dog.

"Or does the dog fail to understand?  It's okay to say that."

The dog noticed the ball in the teacher's hand.  It whined and crept forward.

"I don't know.  The person who made it probably knows it best."

"Perhaps.  But this was one of many, surely.  Did that person understand the materials?  Or care about them?  The designer surely cared."  The teacher took a moment to smile at the dog.  The dog sat down on the grass.  Then it laid down.  It waited for him to do something.

"Yes," the student rubbed her forehead, lost in thought, "but the designer had thousands made, probably, and wasn't there to see the defects in the materials or how fast the manufacturer worked or the problems in the tools used to do the job."

"That's true, a good point.  So you say that you fail to understand  the ball.  And the person who made it fails to understand it.  And the person who designed it fails to understand it.  Aren't those failures all different?  Aren't they all not failures, really, but different ways and degrees of understanding?"

The student threw up her arms.  She shook her head, unwilling to agree.

Her teacher threw the ball.  The dog chased after it.

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