One day Hung-Jen, the fifth patriarch of the Dhyana sect in China, made an announcement to his disciples, saying that whoever was capable of giving a satisfactory proof of his thorough comprehension of Buddhism would succeed him in religious authority. The result was the following two stanzas, the first by one of his most learned disciples and the second by his humble rice-pounder, who, however, was awarded the prize.

    The body is the holy Bodhi tree,
    The mind is like a mirror shining bright;
    Exert yourself to keep them always clean,
    And never let the dust accumulate.

    No holy tree exists as Bodhi known,
    No mirror shining bright is standing here,
    Since there is nothing from the very first,
    Where can the dust itself accumulate?

The two stanzas are suited to illustrate that to obtain a comprehensive view of truth it is not enough to know only one side of the shield, but we must turn it around and see the reverse, as one is complementary to the other. Judging superficially, the two stanzas appear to be directly contradicting each other, for while one advocates the strenuous life, the other seems to be tending to nihilism and libertinism. In my opinion, however, Buddhism would be incomprehensible if these two apparently antagonizing views were not synthesized and harmoniously blended.

Swallow, Seiko Susan Morningstar, 2004, ink on rice paper, 9 × 12 inches
Swallow, Seiko Susan Morningstar, 2004, ink on rice paper, 9 × 12 inches

These two stanzas are the two wings of a bird, or the two wheels of a cart, or, perhaps more exactly, one is like the eye and the other the legs. With the eye we can see, but we cannot move, as we have no legs; with the legs we are able to move, but we are blind, as we are without sight. From the standpoint of absolute truth, there is no such thing as mind or matter or even God or universe. But if we confine ourselves to this view and become blind to the other side, which says that the many exists, that the world actually is, we are like the man who has no legs; we are unable to move, we cannot carry ourselves, we are helpless, we cannot live our daily life. Philosophical insight may be far-reaching enough, but it is contentless, it lacks the material on which to work. Therefore, we must look at the other side and see how our practical life is to be regulated; we must see how our legs are fixed, whether they are strong enough to take us where the eye is directing.

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