The Secret Of Zen
How Do You Define Truth In A Universe Of Contradictions?
Most of us have a natural aversion to contradiction. It rubs us up the wrong way. It pushes our buttons. We can’t abide it.
We want rules. We seek truth. We love to know exactly what we’re dealing with. We want our understanding of the world — of how things are — to come perfectly packaged and clearly defined.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way the Universe works. It’s one of the reasons we are constantly disappointed.
Human beings have been seeking ‘Truth’ for as long as human beings have existed. Or as long as humans have been, if you prefer.
We’ve been arguing over ‘The Truth’ for as long as we’ve had language, but we’ve still failed to reach a consensus.
Just when you think you have things pinned down, just when you think you’ve finally sussed how things are, life throws a spanner in the works and you’re faced with a glaring contradiction.
Religions are full of contradiction — that’s one of the reasons rationalists hate them — but so is science. Those on the cutting edge of science recognise this. Think quantum physics. Think waves and particles.
My own articles here on Medium reflect some of life’s contradictions, and I make no apology for this. If anything, I think it makes my writing more ‘truthful’… more real.
Take my recent article “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” — 25 Life-Changing Quotes From Byron Katie for example. At the heart of Katie’s philosophy and teaching is the premise that we live in a friendly universe.
She believes that nothing can happen that isn’t supposed to happen, that isn’t in our best interests or for our ‘higher good’. It’s a beautiful way of seeing the world and has clearly served her well as a belief system over several decades.
But it’s very much in contradiction to another of my articles, God Is Not A Kindly Grandpa where I conclude that, far from being an inherently friendly universe, all the evidence points to the fact that we are all simply ‘grist to the mill’ in Nature’s (or God’s) endless quest for perfection, expendable fuel for the furnace in whose fires are forged those individuals at evolution’s current (and continuously shifting) pinnacle.
No doubt a multitude of supporters could be found for both views. Which view is right? Are they both wrong? Or both right?
It’s been said many times before that ‘truth is relative’. It’s not fixed, eternal or set in stone. Truth changes depending on perspective.
Sometimes we learn something that we believed to be true was, in fact, false. New knowledge and understanding shows us that the belief we held about something was mistaken.
But sometimes, two contradictory things can both be true. Sometimes a thing can be both true and untrue at the same time. Think Schrödinger’s cat.
Renowned Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki was once asked what is the essence of Zen?
It’s another way of saying, “What is ultimate Truth?”
They wanted him to give them a definition of Reality that was perfectly packaged. Clearly defined. I guess they felt that as a Zen master he should be able to do that.
His answer is one we can all learn from and one we should never forget:
“The secret of Soto Zen is just two words: not always so”