Truth and Heresy

The following lines are from "Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness" by Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of Zen Center in San Francisco.

Truth exists independent of our thoughts, ideas, and perceptions. When we have become the distant past, Truth will not have changed. Yet we can discover some Truths through science, including mathematical systems and laws of physics. We progressively discover Truths, such as geometric shapes, mathematical theorems, physical laws, and possibly even some rules of Gods or Buddhas.

Our stories about Truth are usually teachings expressed through metaphors, sutras or biblical passages, that appeal to human intuition. They can lead to direct experiences and knowledge of the sacred, and what is most important and relevant to our lives. But they can also be misleading and conflicting, with many alternative interpretations. For example, the Zen Koan "If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him!", while apparently ordering you to violate the most basic precept or commandment, is intended to suggest a greater Truth.

"Dis-" approach to discovering Truth progressively throws out what has been commonly accepted, e.g.:

The order of the "Dis-" headings above follows the successive stages that most of us go through as we grow from childhood into adulthood, and later, in some cases, into revolutionaries. (Warning: "Dis"-ing stresses negative thoughts, perceptions, beliefs, or values. These negatives, while they should be considered, may be vastly outweighed by the positives. Negatives may reflect healthy skepticism, but they may also give rise to doubts that limit the positive effects of practice.)


A story is like a finger pointing at the moon; the finger might suggest where to look but cannot approach the thing in itself: the moon.

Our most treasured stories, such as Biblical passages and Sutras, have passed through hundreds of generations, and many cultures involved in their writing, translations, and interpretations. Thousand of years have intervened since Buddha taught, and we continue to modify stories about what He said and did.

Given that even the most treasured Teachings are suspect, all human ideas and stories should be considered with scepticism if one seeks the Truth.


Each precept seems to represent one human perspective on the mystery of reality, of what actually is, as discussed in Meaning of the Precepts. The Precepts, and the Commandments, although reasonable, are somewhat arbitrary; other rules and mores of behavior should be considered. Although some might believe that Precepts are from Buddha, or Commandments are from God, others suspect that they evolved through generations, cultures and languages.

Disparaging, and disdaining, are emotional if immature ways of disavowing or rejecting. As an early part of developing an adult ego, we increasingly differentiate and eventually separate ourselves from our child-like dependence on adults. Each source, and each teaching, are fraught with contradictions and denials, as well as with alternate interpretations and translations from competing teleologies. What once seemed like truth later proves laden with contradictions, if not falsehoods. Through disdainment and disparagement we naturally reject it, and a lot more besides, sometimes regrettably with hatred and resentment of what we once believed.


As one matures, it's natural to go beyond one's parents (and humane to go around them rather than harming them). Teachers are transcended when one masters their arts, authorities when one transcends their spheres, and laws of nations when one assumes responsible for the rights of all beings, and the earth.


Ownership and Ego summarizes the ego's process of encapsulating our normal thoughts and emotions in self-serving ways, that ultimately distort our perceptions of reality, and of ourselves. Disowning may be a necessary part of reversing or countering the ego's dominance, in returning ourselves to ourselves.


Relationships fostered by mutual attachments and aversions may need to be disolved. Practice tends to dissolve some habits, reaching ultimately deep into one's mind, both conscious and unconscious. Even neurosis, and their emotional underpinnings, can ultimately be reached, but not necessarily dissolved, as discussed in Getting Better. Clearly the minds of many teachers of meditation have been transformed through their background of intensive training. The book "Zen and the Brain" explores this thesis in some depth, and lists many tests that might be done to validate emotional and mental reformations attained through practice.


If we do not unduly react to positive or negative notions, and just practice, the negatives may well represent healthy skepticism. Considering only negatives in effect "throws out the baby (Buddha) with the bath-water". One alternative to both positives and negatives, in mindfulness and meditation, is suggested by Huber's Advise, (pay attention, believe nothing, and don't take it personally).

Another alternative is suggested by Stephen Batchelor's book "Buddhism without Beliefs". Batchelor suggests that Buddhism is what we do, particularly our Buddhist practices of mindfulness, meditation, and study.

Practices are what one does in response to one's understanding of life.

The sixth patriarch's advice on how to realize the Truth
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