In Zen we speak of “not-knowing” as the preferred alternative to knowing, and the “don’t-know mind” as an aspiration to the highest accomplishment of human consciousness. Just to say knowing is to imply its opposite, in the conventional sense, and to raise obvious questions, such as what do we know, for sure, and what do we not know.
Knowing is usually associated with intellectual knowledge of various kinds. There is the kind of knowledge that can be gained through practice, such as how to sit in zazen or how to drive a car, involving motor muscle memory. There is the kind that can be gained through study, such as history or a second language, involving mental, or conceptual, memory. And there is knowledge of another kind, that is, knowing in the sense of apprehending our present reality, which may involve a kind of memory of past experience of previous periods of time that made a lasting impression on us, and which form a benchmark for comparison.
There is also the knowledge of how we know what we know, that is, the study of learning and consciousness itself, gained intellectually through the scientific examination of cognition, i.e. “brain science.” The study of the brain is a good example of what we think we can know, and how we can know it. Technology has been developed to allow imaging of the brain in real time, illustrating the firing of neurons in various areas of the organ theorized to control or associate with the functions of the body as well as the mind, such as memory.
Abbot's Message for the New Year: ROMANCING THE STONE
No, it's not about the 1984 movie staring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. When I was working for a design firm that specialized in designing and implementing environmental programs for brick-and-mortar retailers in the 1990s and early 2000s, this term was frequently used to describe what we did for our clients.
Most companies in the business of selling hard and soft lines of merchandise, banking, automotive and other products and services, were then and are still today faced with the dilemma of a competitive climate in which it was more and more difficult to distinguish yourself based on the unique products you sell, the "stones," owing to the fact that others in your niche had the same or similar ones.
Each year at this time we look back, sometimes with regret; and forward, sometimes with trepidation. Setting aside the intellectual sloppiness, or arbitrariness, of selecting a given time of year to make such an assessment — winter introspection likely being a vestige of our agricultural and tribal heritage — any excuse for taking a time out from the hectic pace of modern life is welcome.
Zen meditation is a top-tier example of such a time-out. Shohaku Okumura Roshi referred to zazen as a "vacation." Where every other activity is a form of output, zazen is all input, he said. Everything else is work. We are fortunate to have this "excellent method as the essence of the teaching" as Master Dogen puts it. So, if we are making a year's end inventory of those things for which we are thankful, zazen is certainly near the top of the list.