10 June 2008

Burrowing light

However immense our science may become, we are only burrowing light into an infinitude of darkness. Once an infinitude, always an infinitude.
— C. S. Peirce, 1859 (W1:8)

Even though you have exhausted the abstruse doctrines, it is like placing a hair in vast space. Even though you have learned all the secrets of the world, it is like letting a single drop of water fall into an enormous valley.
— Te-shan (Wumenkuan, Case 28; Aitken 1991, 177)

Te-shan said this just before he burned all his notes and commentaries on the Diamond Sutra. This was the turning point in his life, from scriptural scholar to the Zen patriarch he later became. Or perhaps the turning point came a little earlier, when he was about to depart into the darkness after a long talk with Lung-tan—who handed him a candle, but then as he was taking it, suddenly blew it out.

In any case, whether you burn your notes or write a book is not important. Special transmission, inside or outside the scriptures, is nothing but burrowing into the darkness, which is undiminished thereby. All that grows is your sense of its vastness, which thus affords a way to be that burrowing.

I can't borrow your light and you can't borrow mine. And yet there is only one light: what does it now illuminate?

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