Using Paradoxical Language

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Using Paradoxical Language

Postby VeganLiz » Sun Feb 13, 2011 5:18 pm

This isn't a zen forum but I was wondering why Zen poetry often times uses paradoxical language to speak about enlightenment and divine things.

It seems confusing to me. Is this found in all Buddhism?
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby perkele » Sun Feb 13, 2011 6:02 pm

No, it's not. It's just Zen as far as I can tell.

In the Pali Suttas there is nothing paradoxical as far as I can tell. And the Buddha was very intent on presenting everything he could present clearly, unambiguously.
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun Feb 13, 2011 6:55 pm

One of my favourite verses from the Dhammapada is full of double meanings.

An Excellent Man is Not Credulous

The man who is not credulous,1 who knows the uncreate,2
who has cut off rebirth,3 who has destroyed all results,4
and expelled all desires,5 he is truly an excellent man.6


The Wisdom of Venerable Sāriputta

When thirty forest monks came to pay their respects, the Buddha asked the Venerable Sāriputta whether he believed that cultivating and maturing the five spiritual faculties — confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom — could penetrate and culminate in the deathless. Venerable Sāriputta replied that he did not believe it. Since he had realised the Paths and Fruits he did not take it on faith in the Buddha. The monks talked among themselves that the elder had no faith in the Buddha. Then the Buddha explained that the Venerable Sāriputta was blameless as he had realised it through his personal experience, so he did not need to have faith in the word of another.
Taken at face value, this verse is very shocking, but the key words all have double-meanings.

  1. Assaddho literally means “without confidence” i.e. a non-believer, but here it means one who is not credulous.
  2. Akataññū means “ungrateful,” literally one who does not know what has been done for his benefit, but here it means one who knows (aññū) that which is not created (akata).
  3. Sandhicchedo means one who breaks the connection between houses, a burglar, but here it means an Arahant who won’t be reborn again because he has broken the connection between existences.
  4. Hatāvakāso means one who has ruined his life, but here it refers to the Arahant who has destroyed all future results.
  5. Vantāso or vantāsiko is a kind of hungry ghost (peta) that feeds on vomit, but here means one who has ‘vomitted’ or expelled all desire.
  6. Uttamapuriso means the best of men, but could also mean “one who thinks that he is superior to others” i.e. a conceited person.
You can just imagine the shock effect the verse had on the minds of the thirty forest monks, who entertained doubts about Venerable Sāriputta, if they thought what the Buddha was saying was:
“The ungrateful, faithless burglar, has ruined his life.
He eats what is vomited by others, yet thinks that he is superior.”
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby perkele » Sun Feb 13, 2011 10:29 pm

I'm sorry then. My reply came too rashly out of credulity. :geek:
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby mlswe » Sun Feb 13, 2011 11:31 pm

As I see it koans and paradoxical verse and stories and such things are there to hightlight the difference between conventional truth and ultimate truth (anicca, dukkha, anatta)
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby VeganLiz » Mon Feb 14, 2011 2:48 am

Would you mind going more in depth on that? I'm curious.
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby mlswe » Mon Feb 14, 2011 12:09 pm

perhaps you can provide one or more of the verses that made you think about this thing and I can try to use them as examples to point to the difference
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby Alexei » Mon Feb 14, 2011 2:41 pm

VeganLiz wrote:Is this found in all Buddhism?



    Having killed mother & father, two warrior kings, the kingdom & its dependency — the brahman, untroubled, travels on.
    Having killed mother & father, two learned kings, &, fifth, a tiger — the brahman, untroubled, travels on.
Dhp 294-5

    On one occasion, some bhikkhus came to visit and pay homage to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery. While they were with the Buddha, Lakundaka Bhaddiya happened to pass by not far from them. The Buddha called their attention to the short thera and said to them, "Bhikkhus, look at that thera. He has killed both his father and his mother, and having killed his parents he goes about without any dukkha." The bhikkhus could not understand the statement made by the Buddha. So, they entreated the Buddha to make it clear to them and the Buddha explained the meaning to them.
http://web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism/dmpada2k.htm#294295


    Then Dona, following the Blessed One's footprints, saw him sitting at the root of the tree: confident, inspiring confidence, his senses calmed, his mind calmed, having attained the utmost control & tranquility, tamed, guarded, his senses restrained, a naga.[1] On seeing him, he went to him and said, "Master, are you a deva?"[2]
    "No, brahman, I am not a deva."
    "Master, are you a gandhabba?"
    "No, brahman, I am not a gandhabba."
    "Master, are you a yakkha?"
    "No, brahman, I am not a yakkha."
    "Master, are you a human being?"
    "No, brahman, I am not a human being."
AN 4.36


    "I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."
SN 1.1


    “Whenever you have feelings of love or hate for anything whatsoever, these will be your aides and partners in building parami. The Buddha-Dhamma is not to be found in moving forwards, nor in moving backwards, nor in standing still. This, Sumedho, is your place of non-abiding.”
Last message from Ajahn Chah to Ajahn Sumedho
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby mlswe » Tue Feb 15, 2011 4:22 am

VeganLiz, this is not a koan, or a paradoxical verse. It is however an example of how to look at a text from the perspective of convention and of ultimate truth.

I had an exchange with a person on this board in another thread in where he said my argument was "splitting hairs" which conventionaly had the implication of unneccesary picking of his post

I replied that that splitting of hairs can be crucial because one half (after being split) is Dhamma and the other half is not. The Buddha says the Dhamma is subtle, hard to see.

to that he replied that having little hair of his own he begged to differ (to hair being crucial).

from a conventional perspective one can think refering to wisdom of age giving his opinion more weight (many aged men losing their hair)

from an ultimate perspective he doesnt consider hair to be crucial because because they are not him , anatta (he doesnt cling to hair, the hair is doing its thing, which often can be to dissapear with age)

wishing you well
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby VeganLiz » Tue Feb 15, 2011 10:13 pm

Thanks, that really makes a lot of sense.
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby Jhana4 » Tue Feb 15, 2011 11:34 pm

VeganLiz wrote:Thanks, that really makes a lot of sense.


I don't have anything to add, just wanted to say hello another vegan on the board.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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Re: Using Paradoxical Language

Postby VeganLiz » Wed Feb 16, 2011 12:21 am

Always good to hear from a fellow vegan. :)
"My actions are my only true belongings." Thich Nhat Hanh
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