Trillions of Words versus Two
Not so long ago, nearing the end of a long but very good B. Alan Wallace book on Buddhism vs. Science (he’s written many of these, all of which are really excellent) my word-cup ran over: Too many words.
Too, too many. Far too many.
Now, this is a strange reaction coming from me when you consider that I’ve long viewed words as sustenance, as things you breathe, as countries to shelter me, as continents of thoughts; rain forests of them large and small, a universe of words: my home. Then my cup ran over.
They spilled onto the floor and I went to get a mop and word bucket.
Too much reading, I thought, not enough doing.
I’ve known this for some time, intellectually though not viscerally, or not viscerally enough: you cannot read your way to enlightenment. Still, here I am, reading away with that very purpose in mind. I shake my head at this fool that I am.
Still, all these words, these wonderful words. Written by well-educated, well-meaning, and well-versed authors, they do stir, they do lift, and they do grease some hinges. Fact is, you can’t live without them; not on this planet anyway. What to make of them? What to do with them? When there are so many, so too, too many of them.
And especially when it comes to religion, it seems; when it comes to finding our way out of this labyrinth: so too, too many words.
Consider: The Tibetan Kanjur Translations of the Word of the Buddha consists of 98 Volumes according to the Narthang edition; while the Tibetan Tanjur Translations of the Teachings consists of 224 Volumes (3,626 texts) according to the Beijing edition. Will anyone ever read them all? Can anyone ever read them all; will there be time enough in a single lifetime?
The commentarial elaborations of some individual Buddhist Sutras can run 100,000 lines. That’s not a typo; that is one hundred thousand lines per Sutra commentary.
Looking in the Zen direction, there are literally thousands of writings, ancient and not so ancient. The same holds true for all major world religions: Hinduism—the Vedas consist of at least 89,000 prosody feet, which when elaborated upon by subsequent history ten- or hundred-folds; Christianity, Islam, all of them written and commented and clarified and expounded and opined more or less to death by too much worldly, wordy enthusiasm.
Some more recent religious figures clock in at well over five million words each. That is a lifetime of writing and talking, requiring, in turn, a lifetime of reading and listening.
The point is that you can, literally, read (or listen) yourself blind in any direction and never leave your chair, neither physically or spiritually. Your intellect will strain under the massive weight of all these words, all this significance, under all these opinions (that often appear disguised as facts or certainties), and you will, in the end, in effect, die stupid.
You cannot read your way to enlightenment.
Something (I call it Darkness) separates us from Ultimate Truth, which some (rightly and nicely, I believe) call Buddha Nature. We are holding on to this Darkness, keeping it securely in place, shielding us from our Buddha Nature.
This Darkness has many, many layers to it, but we are only aware of the topmost, and then only if we really look. If we really look.
To really look takes intent and concentration. The Buddha said that a concentrated mind sees things as they really are. That’s the kind of looking it takes.
Meditation teaches you how to look.
Once we truly look and realize that we are in fact holding on to this uppermost level of Darkness, then, and only then, can we let go (for how can you let go of something you’re not aware of grasping and clinging to in the first place); leaving the next layer exposed, which we can then see if we really look.
And really looking, it’ll then dawn on us that we’re in fact cleaving this layer of Darkness to our chest as well: ah, now we can let it go, too.
Exposing the next layer, and so on.
How many layers are there? I don’t know. But I know that we must dare to look, and we must look, and we must cease our clinging.
We must let go.
And here is my Buddhist bottom line: The Buddha did say that his entire path is nothing but a gradual, ever-deepening letting go. A letting go.
Letting go is an action, a doing. It is not a reading. Or a listening. It is a looking, a seeing, a realizing, and a letting go.
And here, then, are the two words that can replace the—most likely—trillions of words written by millions of well-meaning seekers and finders: