The Wall

I have seen the writing on the wall.
Don’t think I need anything at all.
No! Don’t think I’ll need anything at all.
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.

Roger Waters (for Pink Floyd)

Rick Santorum says that John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on being Catholic made him want to throw up. Of course, Santorum was only two years old at the time, so perhaps that had something to do with it. I cannot remember back to when I was two myself. But I do remember a time when I was four or five and President Eisenhower preempted “Superman” to give a speech. Never had any use for Eisenhower after that.

Some folks didn't cotton to the idea.

So what exactly did Kennedy say that the rug-rat Santorum found so regurgitatable? Well, Kennedy’s Catholicism was a major issue in the 1960 Presidential campaign, and he was explaining to a group of Baptist ministers in Houston that, if elected, he would not take his marching orders from the Vatican. You can read the entire speech here at NPR. In the meanwhile, here’s an excerpt:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”

Santorum says, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute . . . To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up.”

Actually, no one is saying that people of faith have no role in the public square. But we are trying to prevent people in the public square from pushing their beliefs on others, which is what Santorum is doing. That’s one reason why it’s called a wall of separation between church and state. Unlike Newt Gingrich, who makes all his stuff up, Santorum is misconstruing the facts. Or, maybe he just doesn’t understand the concept behind the separation of church and state.

But that’s par for the course in the Republican Party where truth and reason never get in the way of a good, divisive argument. Those guys have always made me feel a bit queasy. They go on and on about how they resist the idea of government intruding in people’s lives, and yet they want to tell the rest of us how we should think and act and what we can and can’t do. What a bunch of hypocrites.

The notion about separation of church and state is said to originate from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, in which he wrote,

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

And, James Madison, 4th President of the United States, stated,

The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”

This, I think, pokes some holes in Santorum’s statement yesterday on “Meet The Press” that separation of church and state was “not the founders’ vision.” I think what Santorum and his ilk are really complaining about is a perceived separation between religion and state, which unfortunately is not absolute. If it were, none of our dollar bills would read “In God We Trust” and the President of the United States would be prohibited from saying “God Bless America”, at least while performing his duties as the nation’s chief executive.

Santorum needs to educate himself on American history, especially about the so-called “Founding Fathers.” Some historians, according to American historian Richard B. Morris, consider them to be the following: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

The Religious Right likes to paint the Founding Fathers as fervent Christians. However, of these seven, only John Jay was a practicing Christian. A number were “Deists” which is defined as “a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator.” (Wikipedia)

Other historians “define the “Founding Fathers” to mean a larger group, including not only the Signers and the Framers but also all those who, whether as politicians, jurists, statesmen, soldiers, diplomats, or ordinary citizens, took part in winning American independence and creating the United States of America.”

One such individual, Thomas Paine, was no fan of organized religion:

All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Ethan Allen, the Vermont patriot who never made a stick of furniture in his life, once said,

I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism make me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not.”

Allen was sure about one thing, though. In Reason the Only Oracle of Man, he stated,

While we are under the tyranny of Priests . . . it will ever be their interest, to invalidate the law of nature and reason, in order to establish systems incompatible therewith.

Benjamin Franklin, told Richard Price in a letter dated October 9, 1780,

When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.

Common Sense, what a unique concept.

To me, Franklin’s quote hits the rail on the head. If one’s religion is so great, if one’s God is so awesome, then why do so many people of faith find it necessary to promote their beliefs through force and twisting the truth? I think it has something to do with the fact that faith, as most people understand the word, is by its very nature unreasonable and delusional. I’ve always thought this line from the movie Miracle on 34th Street sums it up best:

Faith is believing in things that common sense tells you not to.”

Most of the time, we champion common sense. But not when it comes to faith. No, when we’re talking about faith, we throw reason and sense out the window. I can suspend my common sense for 90 minutes or so if it’s a fun film. But when the film is over I like to return to a sense of reality:

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.”

Benjamin Franklin

Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”

Friedrich Nietzsche


Empty, Provisionally Existent, and The Middle Way

Yesterday, a reader commented on Thursday’s post, “What is Faith”:

This one was written for the advanced student, I think. It was difficult for me to understand, anyway. What is “provisionally existent?” What provisions?

Does one have faith in nothingness? What is faith in nothing? Nothing in nothing. I’m confused. A rank beginner, obviously.

This understanding is a challenge for everyone. The first thing we need to do, though, is to forget about the words “nothing” and “nothingness.” That is not what we are talking about at all.

In Thursday’s post, I quoted Kuan-Ting discussing Chih-i’s concept of the Threefold Truth (Emptiness, Conventional Existence, and the Middle Way):

. . . all entities are empty, [and yet] they are nevertheless provisionally existent, and that they are the middle between these extremes.”

Ancient painting of T'ien-t'ai master, Chih-i

As I stated in the post, Chih-i (538–597 CE) is considered the de facto founder of the T’ien-T’ai (“Celestial Terrace”) school. He was the first Chinese Buddhist to produce meditation manuals and the first Chinese Buddhist scholar to attempt to unify the various and contradictory Indian teachings. In the process, he developed a number of new doctrines, his work based mainly on the teachings of Nagarjuna. The Threefold Truth, then, was an expansion on Nagarjuna’s Two Truths.

Truth or satya, according to the Soothill dictionary of Buddhist terms, means “To judge, examine into, investigate . . .” In Buddha-dharma, truth is not arbitrary or arrived at through revelation. As one scholar, Yao-Yu Wu, puts it: “Truth is the investigation of reality, the principles of reality learned through investigation are called Truth.” This investigation is done primarily through the process of meditation.

In Fundamental Verses on The Middle Way, Nagarjuna says,

The teachings of the Buddha are based on two truths, the mundane and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction between these two do not understand the profound meaning in the teachings of the Buddha.”

According to the ultimate truth, all things (dharmas), all phenomena, are devoid of an essential self-being (Skt. svabhava) or selfhood. They are empty (Skt. sunya). Self-being is an intrinsic nature that is permanent, unconditioned, independent, and un-caused. In Buddhism, the existence of self-being is impossible. For this reason, we say that things do not exist on their own, independently, eternally, without causes and conditions.

This, however, does not deny the reality of the phenomenal world. From the perspective of the mundane (relative or conventional) truth, all things do exist. But, due to the fact that they lack this intrinsic nature or inherent existence, they are only “provisionally existent.” In other words, it is a temporary existence.

Nagarjuna further says, “All things neither exist (as substantial Being) nor inexist (as nothingness).” Paul Swanson, in Foundations of T’ien-t’ai Philosophy, explains:

Therefore, “non-existence” is affirmed in the sense that though phenomena have conventional existence, they have no substantial Being. “Not inexistent” is affirmed in the sense that though phenomena have no substantial Being, they are not complete nothingness.”

When we look into the mirror, we see a person, a being, who is unique. There is no one else in the world who looks exactly like us, has the same personality, thinks exactly as we do, with the same personal history, etc. Yet, all the characteristics that seem to make us unique are temporary, they will cease to exist when we die, and all of that uniqueness comprises perhaps less than 2% of our entire being. The other 98% is exactly alike everyone else. From this perspective, it is just as Kuan-Ting wrote, “all entities are alike, ultimate, pure and unimpeded.”

Buddhism teaches that all things come into being as the result of causes and conditions, that they are interconnected. This we call pratitya-samutpada – dependent origination, conditioned co-arising, or interdependency.

Chinese character for "The Middle Way"

Chih-i pointed out that within the doctrine of the Two Truths there was actually a third truth implied. He based this on Nagarjuna’s famous maxim:

Whatever arises through interdependency is emptiness. However, this is a conventional designation. It is the meaning of the Middle Way.”

Chih-i maintained that emptiness and provisional existence are merely different extremes or aspects of one reality. Things are empty, in that they do not exist in themselves, but at the same time, they are not nothing. They are midway between these two extremes, and that middle ground (or Middle Way) constitutes a third truth.  On this point, Paul Swanson says,

Chih-i interpreted reality as a threefold truth, a single unity with three integrated aspects . . . The threefold truth is an integrated unity with three aspects. First, emptiness (Skt. sunyata), or absence of substantial Being, often identified with the ultimate truth (Skt. paramartha-satya). Second, conventional existence, the temporary existence of the phenomenal world as co-arising, often identified with the worldly truth (Skt. samvrti-satya). Third, the Middle [Way], a simultaneous affirmation of both emptiness and conventional existence as aspects of a single integrated reality.

For Chih-i these three components are not separate from each other but integral parts of a unified reality.

That’s why Kuan-Ting says that these three views are also provisional, because they are not independent. None of the three truths can stand alone. And when he says faith is conviction, he does not mean any sort of blind faith. Along with meaning a strong belief, the word “conviction” also conveys “the state of being convinced” (Merriam-Webster). And how are we to be convinced? Through our investigation of reality. In this way, the principles of reality learned through investigation that we call truth or satya, become the objects of our conviction, our faith.

To have faith in the Threefold Truth of Emptiness, the Provisional, and the Middle Way is to see reality as it truly is. Chih-i called it chen-k’ung miao-yu or “true emptiness, wondrous existence.”

Chen-k’ung or “true emptiness” refers to the realm of thought, the mind that realizes the emptiness of all things. It’s a state of mind that, free from attachments, is likened to space – it’s non-obstructive, open, and vast. Miao-yu, “wondrous existence”, says Buddhist scholar Ng Yu-kwan, “would imply an affirmative but non-attaching attitude toward the dharmas [things] in the world.” So, once again, emptiness does not deny or reject existence – emptiness is never nothingness – rather it is insight into the mystery of existence, it’s inexplicable reality, and our faith is in the glorious interdependency of all things.

This is a rather simplistic explanation, and I left a number of things out (like the Five Skandhas) in order to keep it as simple as possible. Nonetheless, I hope it helps answer the questions and does not add to any confusion.


What Is Faith?

Kuan-Ting (also known as Chang-an) was the 2nd patriarch of the T’ien-t’ai school, although some sources cite him as the 5th. In his introduction of the Mo Ho Chih Kuan (“Great Stopping and Seeing”), the monumental work compiled from the teachings of the de facto founder of the T’ien-t’ai sect, Chih-i, he says,

What is Perfect Faith? It is the conviction that all entities are empty, that they are nevertheless provisionally existent, and that they are the middle between these extremes. Though ultimately there are not three separate views, provisionally there are three. To say separately they do not exist forestalls the interpretation that there are three, while to say there are three illuminates the truth in each of them. yet in the absence of either forestalling or illuminating the difference between them, one has conviction that all entities are alike, ultimate, pure and unimpeded. When hearing of the profundity and the vastness, not to fear or doubt; and when hearing of the shallow and the narrow, to still have courage in one’s mind – this is what is called having perfect faith.”

In the text of the MHCK itself, Chih-i says,

It is like talking about burning a candle: it is not beginning, yet not apart from the beginning, not final, yet not apart from ending. If knowledge and faith are complete, when one hears that a single instant is it [bodhicitta: the thought of awakening], by virtue of faith one does not repudiate it, and by virtue of knowledge one does not fear it. beginning and end are both right, both it.

If one has no faith, one will elevate it to the sphere of sages and think one has no knowledge of it. If one has no knowledge, one will become conceited and think one is equal to Buddha. Then beginning and end are both wrong, both not it.

In one of the footnotes of Neal Donner’s translation of the MHCK, he quotes from the Kogi, a Japanese commentary on the MHCK by Chiku (1780-1862):

Faith means to accept the teaching directly without superimposing one’s personal opinions.”

Chinese characters for Xinxin or "faith."

And, of course, Seng-ts’an in his poem Xinxin Ming (“Verses on Faith in Mind”) wrote,

To understand the mystery of this One-essence
is to be released from all entanglements.
When all things are seen equally
the timeless Self-essence is reached.
No comparisons or analogies are possible
in this causeless, relationless state.
Consider motion in stillness
and stillness in motion;
both movement and stillness disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist
Oneness itself cannot exist.
To this ultimate finality
no law or description applies.

For the unified mind in accord with the Way
all self-centered striving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish
and life in true faith is possible.”

Kuan-Ting translation by Neal Donner; Chih-i translation by Thomas Cleary


Wasting Valuable Time on Rhetorical Nonsense

“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.”
– Judith Hayes

“Creationist critics often charge that evolution cannot be tested, and therefore cannot be viewed as a properly scientific subject at all. This claim is rhetorical nonsense.”
– Stephen Jay Gould

Recently, the Indiana Senate approved a bill that would allow public schools to teach Christian creationism alongside evolution in science classes as long as the schools include origin of life theories from various religions including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Scientology.

On the surface, it would look like the lawmakers are attempting to forge a fair and balanced approach. But in reality, this is just nuts.

First of all, whether you want to call it creationism or intelligent design, this theory is little more than fantasy. I don’t think I need say more in that regard. And Scientology? Their creation story is about as crazy as you can get. Something about a galactic overlord 75, 000, 000 years ago who ruled a number of planets, killed all his people and froze their souls (thetans), and sent them to Earth. These lawmakers really want school children exposed to that?

Another small problem: Buddhism has no creation story per se. So, it would be hard to teach. When I say no “creation story,” I am referring to the notion that life and the universe were created by a supernatural being. As  Nyanaponika Thera writes in “Buddhism and the God-idea”,

From a study of the discourses of the Buddha preserved in the Pali canon, it will be seen that the idea of a personal deity, a creator god conceived to be eternal and omnipotent, is incompatible with the Buddha’s teachings. On the other hand, conceptions of an impersonal godhead of any description, such as world-soul, etc., are excluded by the Buddha’s teachings on Anatta, non-self or unsubstantiality. … In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world.”

This notion doesn’t fly in Mahayana either. Nagarjuna explained with his logic that creation would be impossible since there is neither a subject or object of creation.

Now, Buddhism does have a story about a man named Malunkyaputta who approached the Buddha and asked him explain the origin of the universe.  According to this tale, the Buddha refused to answer basically because it would amount to rank speculation. The Buddha was not there at the beginning of the universe, so how could he know?

Malunkyaputta had some others questions as well, and you’ll find more on that at the end of this post.

But back to creationism: I have never really understood why Christians in particular have such an aversion to evolution. It certainly has more of an empirical foundation than their present theory. And why couldn’t God have created evolution? How would that in any way diminish their god’s greatness? Sounds reasonable to me, but no, say the creationists, evolution is false.

From what I have heard in the public discussions about this issue, most Christians are unable to come up with a coherent explanation for why evolution is false. I suspect most of them don’t understand why either, but have come to that opinion merely because their parents and church elders and teachers have told them it’s false. I have also long suspected that the seeds of this aversion to evolution are racial in nature. For instance, when reading about the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, it becomes obvious that those opposed to evolution didn’t mind being related to monkeys as much as they objected to being related to “Negros.”

In any case, I think the bottom line is summed up very well by Claire Vriezen at

Creation stories are not equivalent ideas to tested and refined scientific theories and, as such, should not be taught alongside evolution. They cannot be falsified, nor do they have predictive power. On a further note, the state legislature of Indiana should not be spending time arguing about whether to amend the curriculum to allow for the addition of religious ideas in a science classroom. There are surely better uses of the time and resources of the state legislature.”

Or, as the Buddha is quoted as saying below, “wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind.”

Here’s how Walpola Rahula tells the story of Malunkyaputta in What the Buddha Taught:

The Buddha was not interested in discussing unnecessary metaphysical questions which are purely speculative and which create imaginary problems. He considered them as a ‘wilderness of opinions’. It seems that there were some among his own disciples who did not appreciate this attitude of his. For, we have the example of one of them, Malunkyaputta by name, who put to the Buddha ten well-known classical questions on metaphysical problems and demanded answers.

One day Malunkyaputta got up from his afternoon meditation, went to the Buddha, saluted him, sat on one side of the road and said:

‘Sir, when I was all alone meditating, this thought occurred to me: There are these problems unexplained, put aside and rejected by the Blessed One. Namely, (1) is the universe enternal or (2) is it not eternal, (3) is the universe finite or (4) it is infinite, (5) is soul the same as body or (6) is soul one thing and body another thing, (7) does the Enlightened One exist after death, or (8) does he not exist after death, or (9) does he both (at the same time) exist and not exist after death, or (10) does he both (at the same time) not exist and not not-exist. These problems the Blessed One does not explain to me. This (attitude) does not please me, I do not appreciate it. I will go to the Blessed One and ask him about this matter. If the Blessed One explains them to me, then I will continue to follow the holy life under him. If he does not explain them, I will leave the Order and go away. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is eternal, let him explain it to me so. If the Blessed One knows that the universe is not eternal, let him say so. If the Blessed One does not know whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, then for a person who does not know, it is straightforward to say “I do not know, I do not see”.’

The Buddha’s reply to Malunkyaputta should do good to many millions in the world today who are wasting valuable time on such metaphysical questions and unnecessarily disturbing their peace of mind:

‘Did I ever tell you, Malunkyaputta, “Come, Malunkyaputta, lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you?” ’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Then, Malunkyaputta, even you, did you tell me: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and the Blessed One will explain these questions to me”?’

‘No, Sir.’

‘Even now, Malunkyaputta, I do not tell you: “Come and lead the holy life under me, I will explain these questions to you”. And you do not tell me either: “Sir, I will lead the holy life under the Blessed One, and he will explain these questions to me”. Under the circumstances, you foolish one, who refuses whom? (i.e., both are free and neither is under obligation to the other).

“Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not lead the holy life under the Blessed One until he explains these questions,” he may die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One. Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow, and his friends and relatives bring him to a surgeon. Suppose the man should then say: “I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know who shot me; whether he is a Ksatriya (of the warrior caste) or a Brahmana (of the priestly caste) or a Vaisya (of the trading and agricultural caste) or a Sudra (of the low caste); what his name and family may be; whether he is tall, short, or of medium stature; whether his complexion is black, brown or golden; from which village, city or town he comes. I will not let this arrow be taken out until I know the kind of bow with which I was shot; the kind of bowstring used; the type of arrow; what sort of feather was used on the arrow and with what kind of material the point of the arrow was made.” Malunkyaputta, that man would die without knowing any of these things. Even so, Malunkyaputta, if anyone says: “I will not follow the holy life under the Blessed One until he answers these questions such as whether the universe is eternal or not, etc,” he would die with these questions unanswered by the Enlightened One.’

Then the Buddha explains to Malunkyaputta that the holy life does not depend on these views. Whatever opinion one may have about these problems, there is birth, old age, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, distress, “the Cessation of which (i.e. Nirvana) I declare in this very life.”

‘Therefore, Malunkyaputta, bear in mind what I have explained as explained, what I have not explained as unexplained. What are the things that I have not explained? Whether the universe is eternal or not, etc, (those 10 questions) I have not explained. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained them? Because it is not useful, it is not fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is not conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. That is why I have not told you about them.

‘Then, what, Malunkyaputta, have I explained? I have explained dukkha (suffering), the arising of dukkha, the cessation of dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of dukkha. Why, Malunkyaputta, have I explained them? Because it is useful, is fundamentally connected with the spiritual holy life, is conducive to aversion, detachment, cessation, tranquility, deep penetration, full realisation, Nirvana. Therefore I have explained them.’


“Like A Shiny Blue Sky”

Poster of Toshiro Mifune as Musashi in 1955 film, "Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple."

Miyamoto Musashi was a masterless samurai (ronin) who lived in Japan in the 1600’s. An accomplished swordsman, he is said to have engaged in over sixty duels without suffering defeat once. I’ve blogged before about his text, Go Rin No Sho (“Book of Five Rings”), a book on strategy, leadership, and philosophy still studied today. This is Victor Harris’ translation of the final chapter in the book.

Ku No Maki

The Book of the Void

The Ni To Ichi (“Two heavens, two swords as one”) Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man’s knowledge. Of course, the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.

In the Way of strategy, also, those who study as warriors think that whatever they cannot understand in their craft is the void. This is not the true void.

To attain the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practice day by day, and hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.

Until you realize the true Way, whether in Buddhism or in common sense, you may think that things are correct and in order. However, if we look at things objectively, from the viewpoint of laws of the world, we see various doctrines departing from the true Way. Know well this spirit, and with forthrightness as the foundation and the true spirit as the Way. Enact strategy broadly, correctly and openly.

Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the void as the Way, you will see the Way as void.

In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness.

To Teruo Magonojo

Twelfth day of the fifth month, second year of Shoho (1645)

From Shinmen Musashi

This is good guidance for Buddhists, or anyone on a spiritual path, as well as for warriors.

Naturally, when Musashi says, “ku is nothingness,” he does not mean it literally. Hidy Ochiai’s translation reads, “Ku is the realm of matters beyond ordinary human understanding.”

In his analysis, Ochiai writes,

The world of Ku is where one can truly know and feel what exists and what doesn’t. One knows and understands all and yet is not attached to knowledge. One is not even attached to oneself, therefore he is free in the truest sense of the word. In the world of Ku, one becomes harmonious with the universe to the extent that the self feels at one with it. According to Musashi, the realm of Ku can be reached though a complete understanding and absorption of the Way of martial strategy. One’s state of mind in the world of Ku is like a shiny blue sky which has no clouds – free from doubt and confusion.”

Ku is the Japanese translation of the Chinese kung, which in turn is a translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata or “emptiness.” Another meaning of ku is “sky.”

In Mahayana Buddhism, ku or emptiness is synonymous with “wisdom.” Dogen, in his commentary on the Heart Sutra says, “To, ‘learn what Wisdom is’ means ‘to be free of preconceptions’.”

One’s mind must be clear to be free from preconceptions. Doubt, fear, confusion – all stem from our preconceptions because there really is nothing to doubt, or be fearful about, or confused over. We just think there is, and so, when we see things clearly, when we wipe away the clouds of our preconceptions, our mind becomes “like a shiny blue sky.”

As Shunryu Suzuki says in Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, “A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits is not open to things as they are. That is why we practice [meditation]; to clear our mind of what is related to something else.”

A Japanese monk named Tonna (1289-1372) wrote this poem based on the theme of “Color is no different from sky; the sky is no different from color,” from the Heart Sutra:

Clouds disappear
And the sky clears to deep blue,
But as I gaze up,
That color, too, in a while
Has faded into emptiness.”