If books and writings cannot supersede indirect or intuitive understanding, at least at the apex of reason and intellect, then what are the sources of this understanding? The transmission of Zen in the example of the previous post has its equivalent in every culture and tradition. The intuitive traditions do not reject reason. Rather, the intuitive traditions are constructed around the assumption that reason will be exhausted before it will have approximated that understanding that gives equanimity and peace.

The existential and human condition gives latitude for the individual’s sense of what Shunryn Suzuki describes as “activity which is completely burned out, with nothing remaining but ashes.” It is not a book which is burned (as in the story cited in the previous post) but the self in activity. This sounds inimical to the solitary, activity refers to everything we do or are, all at once. Burning oneself out, right down to ashes, is a radical image, but not incompatible with solitude.

This proposition of intuitive understanding of what we are to do is the giving over entirely to a perceived or intuited reality, regardless of where it leads. For wherever it leads is within the bounds of reasonableness and the fullness of meaning intuited by right-mindedness. It is, necessarily human, for we cannot be anything else. But it is not restricted in the same way that humans are who get their cues from society and culture. It is not action that is rash but the dogged pursuit of what can be done given the insight one has gotten. And this insight transcends social expectations, challenges, shames, and gives meaning. We have the familiar but defying example of the bodhisattva to point to this path. But here is a more tangible example:

In the days when only Chinese texts existed in Japan, Tetsugen decided to have the sutras printed in Japanese characters. This would be a great undertaking, as it involved making all of the wooden blocks for the printing and then the production and distribution of 7,000 books.

Tetsugen began traveling about and collecting the funds. He received a few coins at a time, but thanked each donor. After ten years he had sufficient funds. Just then a terrible flood swept the region and famine followed. Everyone was homeless and hungry. Tetsugen used all the funds he had collected to alleviate the suffering. Soon he was penniless.

Tetsugen began collecting funds again. After many years he had collected what he needed. Just then a pestilence swept the land. Many suffered and were left bereft. Tetsugen spent the money he had collected to alleviate the suffering. Soon he was penniless.

A third time, Tetsugen began collecting money for his project. After twenty years he had collected what he needed. The wooden blocks were commissioned and the books produced and distributed. It is said that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, but it is the first two that surpassed the third and will be remembered.