It has been noted that the cross symbolizes the ability to hold two thoughts at once. In the case of developing wisdom and compassion, these two thoughts may be that we are both one and everything. As Paul Levy points out in Dispelling Wetiko, the cross is used to keep vampires away as vampires represent our constant need to possess and devour everything that we come across in the mistaken view that we are separate. In the American Soto lineage of Maezumi Roshi the first grave precept, not to take life, is coupled immediately with this wisdom that we are all one. “Recognizing that I am one with all beings, I vow to support all life.” It is in this way that wisdom and compassion are one. Recognizing that we are one with all life is to take the path of the Bodhisattva.
However we come to focus on the “interior life” as the Christian mystics call it, we realize that from our selfish standpoint we need to surrender our false view of separation in order to transcend worldly suffering. In Elie Wiesel’s Night, he speaks to a rabbi about Jewish Mysticism and the rabbi advises him that we do not pray to find the answers but we pray to ask the right questions. The question and the answer become one if we ask in earnest and the answer is in the question. This is also the concept of Great Doubt in Buddhism. Small doubt, small enlightenment. Great doubt, great enlightenment.
The fool thinks he knows “how the world works.” We are four limbed creatures somehow energetically drawn to a spinning ball of dirt, apparently alone in an infinite sea of blackness and space dust. Our very bodies are born of the desire to kill and consume endlessly. We breed to kill and stick as much of our Mother Earth into our grinders as we can fit to satiate an endless appetite for more ‘me.’ In our spiritual blindness, we turn living beings into chairs, sandwiches and nuggets and even our offspring become grist for the mill – economic slaves, dead soldiers or those who temporarily feast on spoils of war and exploitation. If you are wondering what hell is like – WAKE UP. You’re here. When we think we “know how the world works,” we better get ourselves some Great Doubt quickly.
As our spiritual sensitivity grows, we begin to realize that this is no longer an acceptable container for our evolution. A friend once asked me why Dogen taught with so much apparent haste and directness. He surmised it was because Dogen clearly saw that we are all him. As our spiritual insight grows we begin to see the “elementals,” as the Christian mystic Kyriacos Markides called them, or Jungian archetypes or karmic imprints which often times work through our human organism to effect evil. Through meditation practice we begin to see that these archetypes, elementals, karmic imprints or inner voices are not alive – they do not have agency. What we consider a “self” is made up of these dead things. Putting a bunch of dead things together does not make life. This is why we speak of being ‘born again’ and why many teachers have said plainly that most people are not even alive yet – their soul has yet to be birthed or awakened.
The Mahayana is known as the Great Vehicle. The primary insight is that we are, in fact, everything. In training, we can start with this very notion even though we are not at that level yet, and actively acquire and seek first hand insight and living practice with this fact of oneness. In this way we begin to energetically link ourselves with the Bodhisattva mind, the mind of compassion, the mind of God and begin to sever our links with vampiric consumption, greed, hunger and ignorance. By making our whole body and mind into the right question we slowly become the right answer. Instead of being a collection of dead elementals drawn from a violent human psyche, we become the Great Vehicle which recognizes all beings as one and congruently works to support them.
Coming back to Elie Wiesel’s Night, he writes clearly of hell on earth. The rabbi, who had seen the Nazi’s throw babies in the air for target practice and force women and children to dig their own grave before shooting them comes back to warn the townspeople but they just think he has gone mad. When the Nazi’s finally arrive at the town they are friendly and cordial. Then come some rules and some “borders.” Then a slight change in the attitude of the Nazi’s and a camp for Jews is fenced in. Finally, into the cattle cars for a ride to Auschwitz and hell. Along the way, a hysterical woman screams as she has visions of fire. When everyone finally sees the fire coming from the crematorium at Auschwitz it is too late. Families are separated like cattle. The old and young are burned alive and the rest are put to work. All along it was only blindness and the inability to see the presence, workings and roots of evil that opened the doors of hell through us. In this way, by being asleep to the true nature of our existence, we are the very portal through which hell comes.
And this is truly the value of zero, Tao, transcendence. Thinking you can have only light without darkness is delusion. The seeds of bad are born with the good and vice versa. These are the winds of karma, the nature of the container in which we find ourselves. Realizing that there is no day without night, no light without dark, no good without evil, is the beginning of equanimity and abiding in your true self. By transcending the notion that we are separate we simultaneously transcend our vampiric need for “good” and our denial of “bad.” Thinking we can remain in the soup of samsara and experience good without bad simply by craving some dead elementals while shunning others is the very root of ignorance, greed and anger. Only by transcending good and evil, self and other, existence and non-existence do we come to know what it is to be truly born.