I WANT TO BE A SAGE XIV

“Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed-identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name” (Ziporyn, p 6).


I previously made mention of Bodhidharma, the legendary “barbarian” (depicted with bulging round eyes and a gold ring in his ear) who came out of the West (India) and brought Chan (Zen) Buddhism to China. (Though surely Chan developed in China, it being a synthesis of Daoism and Buddhism.) His subsequent interview with the Emperor Wu is most enlightening. Wu was a devout Buddhist, and since he had done much to further the cause of Buddhism, he asked Bodhidharma how much “merit” he had consequently laid up for himself. “No merit at all,” replied Bodhidharma.


This was a nuclear reply. Its beauty could make one weep. Realizing the implications of this could be the full realization of the Buddhist vision. Yet every –ism quickly defaults to the “typical human inclinations”—the desire to be someone and the obsession with right and wrong. The religious-mind ever-triumphs. Karma. I admit that I have no right to say so, but I say it nonetheless: Karma is utter bullshit. The doctrine of karma is yet another form of religious self-oppression that needs to be put on the shelf next to “hell”. I think Bodhidharma would agree.


“The Spirit Man has no particular merit.” The sage is no better than anyone else. Get it? How could we get it when we are addicted to good, bad, better, and worse? The good news is that we don’t have to get it. It doesn’t matter. All is well. No merits or demerits are accumulating in our personal heavenly bank accounts. There is no Book of Life. We will not have our day in a celestial court. Samsara is Nirvana. It does not matter—except, of course, in terms of our enjoyment of life.


Emperor Wu was taken aback. “What then is the highest meaning of the holy truths!?” he exclaimed. “Vast emptiness, without holiness,” replied Bodhidharma. Damn! How then can we have Buddhism? We can’t have Buddhism if we insist on having it. Buddhism, just like Daoism, either self-immolates or simply becomes an empty, religious shell. Isn’t this what all the world’s “great” religions are—empty shells? Of course. But this is humanity; this is what humanity is and does. So let’s affirm and enjoy this mess, just as we might enjoy a scramble in the messy woods.


“Who the hell are you!?” asked the exasperated Emperor. “I don’t know,” answered Bodhidharma. “The sage has no name.”

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