mardi, juin 26, 2012

Zen and the Art of Calvinist Epistemology

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NB (1 Dec 2015): 
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Hokusai Fuji-San ("36 views of Mt Fuji")
Last updated 14 Jan 2010
Apologies for ropey formatting here and there -
essay rescued from a closing blog elsewhere. 

Zen and the Art of Calvinist Epistemology

 Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh


CONTENTS
1. Intro
2. Zen
3. Detachment
4. Praxis
5. Nature
6. Pattern
7. Sovereignty of God
8. Cornelius Van Til: Polarities and Paradoxes
9. Herman Dooyeweerd and Sphere-Sovereignty
10. Back to Nature
11. Early Gaelic Nature-Poetry
12. Epistemological Self-Consciousness
13. Brute Otherness, Nothingness, and Wilderness
14. Between Two Insanities
15. Icy water
16. in Closing...

1. Intro
Dear Alan, Sorry to take so very long responding. A few pressures got in the way, and I couldn't begin to answer your Calvinism and Zen question anyway without a deal of thought. As I was writing, it occurred to me that I might usefully copy this material (with your indulgence) to a few others who have some interest in these matters (or at least some curiosity - if not alarm - about where I'm coming from). This consideration accounts for the text falling into a less personal register as it goes on. And is also the reason why I at points seem to be explaining Van Til and Dooyeweerd to you, when you are already more conversant with their thought than I am. Apologies for these things.

As always, I am a bit awestruck at your reading programme! I am, of course, very much on board with your impatience of MacDiarmid's, Sorley's, (and much of that Scottish literary generation's) indulgence of Sovietism. I concur also with your "post tenebras lux" approach. I was reading this morning Psalm 139 -


"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me
And the light around me will be night,' 
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You"
 (vv11,12)

You mention the verse "He has made everything beautiful in its time". Since like you I view God as absolutely sovereign, I am predisposed to this affirmation. Yet it remains a sword in my heart nonetheless. I have just discovered that the Chinese character for "endure" (忍 rěn) features a knife blade (刃 rèn) over, or in, a heart (心 xīn). To lift a newspaper or glance at a TV bulletin, or visit a children's hospital precludes any simplistic application of these words. If the verse be true at all (as likewise, if God be sovereign at all) it can only be so on a profounder level of apprehension than is the norm. The attempt to endure trauma while professing the sovereignty of God is difficult enough. To call it "beautiful" seems a step too far.

I checked out the original Hebrew for this word "beautiful". It is "yapheh" יפה, which seems to be a standard enough term for "beautiful", but can also shade into "good" and "excellent". Thus the French Louis Segond version has "Il fait toute chose bonne en son temps". Actually, I'm not sure that takes me much further forward. The American Standard Version is a bit easier to get along with. It has "He has made everything appropriate in its time". In the Septuagint, the term used for "beautiful" here is "kalos". This turns out to be the word Christ uses of Himself and of his demise when He says "I am the good (ο καλος) shepherd. The good (ο καλος) shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

In Classical Greek "kalos" means "beautiful". Also,"noble","praiseworthy". But most significantly for me, it can also mean"serving a good end or purpose" (Greek-English Lexicon, Liddle, Scott, after Passow).

In Ecclesiastes the Chinese renders the Hebrew "yapheh"with the character for "beautiful" (美 měi) and the character for "good" (好 hǎo) together. In tandem, these characters (美好 měi hǎo) can mean "OK". Maybe that helps just a little bit.n

So where are we? The Greek at least tells us that God has made everything "kalos" in its time, and also that the Shepherd Who is "kalos" lays down His life for the sheep. Thus the death of this Shepherd "serves a good end or purpose". Thus the Cross was supremely yapheh יפה ("beautiful") in its time. And for all time and eternity. Yet who can bear it's horror? Pain is pain.

In Gethsemane ("Oil-Press"), Christ recoiled from the prospect of the pain before Him. Certainly, as I think about it, pain accepted as the careful providence of God ("Thy will be done") can surely be distinguished from the random, blank pain of an atheist universe. The cosmos "groans", being presently subject to "decay/ futility/ meaninglessness" (Rom 8), but the Christian (certainly the Calvinist Christian) affirms in effect that "this (cosmic) sickness is not unto death but to the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified by it" (John 11). That is of course a very difficult statement indeed which risks outrage. On the other hand in its impenetrable mystery it rescues from meaninglessness all human misery from the dawn of history to the end of time.

But pain remains pain. Jesus wept sorely at Lazarus' tomb minutes before he commanded Lazarus to walk out of there. The certainty that all was going to be well (or "OK" - 美好 měi hǎo) did not seem to exempt Jesus from the trauma of loss.

So it seems that all these words are being stretched beyond their limits in the attempt to contain a reality which transcends the lexicon (and which I suspect transcends Time itself). Like plastic supermarket bags faced with packing a snorting Clydesdale horse stood on the checkout counter.
The default outlook of our Western society is secular. The defining context is Godless. The de facto committment is to a neo-Darwinist philosophical materialism. Design is illusion. Life accidental. Death terminal. Purpose strictly DIY. The random Now is all there is. In contrast, the Christian is optimistic about the future, however desolate the present:

"Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5: 4)

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18)

The Good Shepherd will lead us to a Good Place:

"For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17)
Context is everything:

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also 
He has put eternity in their hearts..."(Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Having mulled this over quite a bit, I guess I can only finally cope with that word "beautiful" in eschatalogical terms. In other words for me it ultimately can only refer to suffering reality as entered into and rescued by the Christ on the cross. Suffering (忍 rěn) reality will finally, because of the Cross, have the "knife" (刃 rèn) removed from its "heart" (心 xīn), to be replaced with "eternity" (永 yǒng).

Those latter words from Ecclesiastes ("He has put eternity in their hearts") are central to the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, and he beautifully and classically articulates this Biblical context of suffering here:

"Nothing in our apostate world can get lost in Christ. There is not any part of space, there is no temporal life, no temporal movement or temporal energy, no temporal power, wisdom, beauty, love, faith or justice, which sinful reality can maintain as a kind of property of its own apart from Christ.[...] It is all due to God's common grace in Christ that there are still means left in the temporal world to resist the destructive force of the elements that have got loose; that there are still means to combat disease, to check psychiatric maladies, to practise logical thinking, to save cultural development from going down into savage barbarism, to develop language, to preserve the possibility of social interaction, to withstand injustice, and so on. All these things are the fruits of Christ's work, even before His appearance on the earth. From the very beginning God has viewed His fallen creation in the light of the Redeemer." (Herman Dooyeweerd, "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought" Vol II, p 34)

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HOME                      2. ZEN
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2. Zen
You ask (smiling, I imagine) about an apparent "Zen" bias to my Calvinism. Ecclesiastes (and indeed the context of your very quote above) are a reasonable place to begin some kind of explanation -
"To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace. What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor--it is the gift of God. I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, NKJV)
Now, it seems to me that, the God-references apart, this passage from Ecclesiates is pretty "Zenish". Indeed, this could be argued for much of Ecclesiastes. There is here in Ecclesiastes the sense that our attitude to the moment-by-moment vicissitudes of our lives should be characterized by equilibrium or equanimity (Latin aequus "even" + animus "mind"). Engagement with, or focus on, the everyday 'here and now' is urged in Zen. Metaphysical speculation and 'overthinking' what might be or what might have been is discouraged in Zen. There is in Zen also an engaging simplicity (rusticity?) and matter-of-factness. Consider in this regard a few anecdotes from the book "Zen Flesh Zen Bones"  (Compiled by Paul Reps) - 
"A young physician in Tokyo named Kusuda met a college friend who had been studying Zen. The young doctor asked him what Zen was. "I cannot tell you what it is," the friend replied, "But one thing is certain. If you understand Zen, you will not be afraid to die." "That's fine" said Kusuda."I will try it. Where can I find a teacher?" "Go to the master Nan-in," the friend told him. So Kusuda went to call on Nan-in... Nan-in said: "Zen is not a difficult task. If you are a physician, treat your patients with kindness. That is Zen." Kusuda visited Nan-in three times. Each time Nan-in told him the same thing. "A physician should not waste his time around here. Go home and take care of your patients."
*     *     *
"When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer. "Give me the best piece of meat you have, said the customer." "Everything in my shop is the best." replied the butcher. "You cannot find any piece of meat here that is not the best." At these words Banzan became enlightened.(Compare "Everything is best" with "Everything is beautiful in its time" - F.)
*     *     *
A lord asked Takuan, a Zen teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others. Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man -not twice this dayinch time foot gemIn idiomatic English this might read -This day will not come again.Each minute is worth a priceless gem
*     *     *
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal. Ryokan returned and caught him. "You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift. The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away. Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could have  given him this beautiful moon."
*          *      *
This of course brings to mind aspects of Christ's teaching - 
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. (Matthew 5:39-41)  
Then Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?  
"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them." (Luke 12:22-30)
And Paul's -
"For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:11-12) 
"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
And Job's responses -
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)  
His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2:9,10)
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3. Detachment

Some of these Scriptural references are clearly urging on us a detachment from material comforts. A healthy detachment which frees from anxiety. Christians are fairly used to that message, however resistant we are to it in practice. But a closer reading of Paul reveals a profounder message which, like that of Job, cuts much nearer the bone. From the perspective of "spirituality", detachment from luxuries is surely kid's stuff. Detachment from personal deprivation, from personal desolation and disaster - that requires considerably more maturity. 

"Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" Well, shall we? Shall we say that this "trouble" which befalls us, indeed this harrowing horror, is "beautiful in its time"? Shall we say with Job "The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord"? Are we even close to being able to say with Paul "For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances"? OK, so now our mind goes to extreme life-shocks - the death of a child, etc. And such events of course are the bottom line for us in the sense that, if we can echo Job at that point then we have surely passed the "trial"-
"For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:10-12, NIV) 
"Ô Dieu, tu nous as éprouvés, tu nous as passés au creuset comme l'argent, tu nous as mis en difficulté, tu nous as accablés de détresse. Tu as laissé des hommes nous passer à cheval sur la tête, nous avons dû traverser le feu et l'eau. Mais tu nous as tirés de là et soulagés." (Psaume 66:10-12, en français courant)
However, although we are told that "In all this, Job did not sin in what he said", it is important to observe - it is surely a deliverance to observe - that he was far from impassive. In fact many chapters of the Book of Job are sustained expressions of bitter complaint, crippling bewilderment, and abysmal despair. This man was no Stoic. Nor was Christ Himself. His mental agony in Gethsemane, His public grief at Lazarus's tomb, we have already alluded to. His anger and His humour are also apparent in the Gospels.

The challenge faced by Job, and fulfilled by Christ, was to cleave unto God whatever the circumstances. Attachment to God enables commensurate detachment from circumstance. By "detachment from circumstance" we in no way intend a flight from reality, or refusal to face up to unwelcome facts. As you are well aware, there is a pietistic strand of evangelicalism which refrains from participation in society, culture, politics etc, in order, ostensibly, to preserve and cultivate internal sanctity. This, I truly believe, is heretical. It is like an army which digs itself into foxholes and refuses to engage the encroaching enemy, convinced that the only war is the one within their "souls".


So, while Christian detachment is "unto God", it is yet in the midst of circumstance. In other words, we are talking about transcendence over circumstance rather than avoidance of circumstance. The Calvinist emphasis on the sovereignty of God is crucial here. If God's sovereignty were less than absolute, the words "Thy will be done" would be about as meaningful as "Let's just keep our fingers crossed". Let us perhaps re-read that verse from Psalm 66 just quoted, but this time note all the more carefully the ultimate source of events as appealed to by the Psalmist:


"For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:10-12, NIV) 


An all-swallowing swamp shrouded in noxious fog. That's what Job's stable, comfortable world had become. Almost overnight. His very body decaying like putrid timber. He clung, as if hung by a nail, to that single broken branch above him.


As we look in turn at Zen, the question arises, what is Zen detachment "unto"? This is not intended as a cheap question. Zen would no doubt answer with some variation on the theme of "oneness", "nothingness" or some such. Typically, the Christian would dismiss this out of hand as Eastern mumbo-jumbo (detached, sure, but from reality). But a bit more humility might be appropriate. If my personal world is suddenly in ruins, just how much will I the 'Calvinist' continue to trust in the sovereignty of God? Only when it happens will I know. I may be astonished at just how much the Void invades my hitherto "pious" consciousness. 


However Zen articulates the matter, its focus on the existence of a transcendent equilibrium beyond circumstance is surely accurate in principle. Calvinism, for its part, would insist that there is no basis for such "transcendent equilibrium" other than the character and sovereign kindness of the Living God. Indeed faith in, and obedience to, God are made prerequisites, as we see if we trace the Biblical use of the word "rest". It first appears in Genesis 8. Noah sends out a dove from the ark to see if the flood-waters have abated -"But the dove found no rest (מנוח manowach) for the sole of her foot". The Septuagint generally translates this term with "κατάπαυσις (katapausis)", which also carries the connotation of "calming of the winds", or simply "calm". These two Hebrew and Greek terms turn up in the following passage in the New Testament (and we note in passing the zen-like emphasis on "Today" - ie "Here and Now"):
"So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted: 'Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts.'” (Hebrews 4:6-11, New Living Translation)
So whether we face flood or storm, we yet endeavour to find rest (ie God's equilibrium) for the sole of our foot: 
God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! (Psalm 46:1-3,10 NKJV)
Isaiah tells us:
In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength; but you would have none of it. (Isaiah 30:15)
A French version of the above verse superbly brings out its relevance to our discussion:
Vous ne serez sauvés qu'en revenant à moi et en restant tranquilles. Votre seul force, c'est de garder votre calme et de me faire confiance.  
(You will be saved only in returning to me and in remaining tranquil. Your only strength is to guard your calm and to have confidence in me) (Esaie 30:15 en français courant)
And Christ Himself says to us (in those words which drew me to Him at the first):
Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest... (Matt 11:28).
And these remarkable words which signal some kind of transcendent counterpoise between rest and unrest:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
But in envisaging (as in the case of Job) only extreme circumstances when we ponder these matters, we can overlook the relevance of these Scriptures for our everyday stresses at work, domestically, and so on. Before us here in Scripture is modelled a predisposition we should obviously aspire to in our daily "walk" - namely, a detachment from (or "equanimity" concerning) both "luxury" and "deprivation". Detachment - to take a mundane example familiar to many of us - from a chronic corrosive preoccupation with the anticipated "luxury" of reaching the end of the "deprivation" (or "grind") imposed on us by the working day or week.

As with Ecclesiastes - "A time for war, And a time for peace...". As with Paul - "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation". As with Job - "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"


Stressless within the stress of everyday life - is this a Biblically generated and informed aspiration, or is it just imposing on the Bible the contemporary preoccupation with psychological self-management? Perhaps our judgement gets skewed by a pietistic (gnostic-inspired) mindset which partitions life into "sacred" and "secular", or "spiritual" and "physical" categories, with the Bible and God only relevant to the so-called "spiritual" compartment - where reside (from this viewpoint) the matter of sin and deliverance therefrom.


I observe that, for me as a teacher, a practiced attitude of calm (on those occasions when I get close to it!) saves me from an anger which can so often lead into speech and behaviour which I later regret. In other words, the conscious fostering of "serenity" (inner "rest"/ "calm"/ "equilibrium"/ "equanimity") will clearly impact on our self-control - which, let us remember, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:23).


Christ tells us that "men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken" (Matt 12:36). Is self-control an instance of "psychological self-management"? A factor in one's attitude to alcohol is of course its possible impairment of self-control. Intake is avoided or regulated largely with self-control in mind. The pietist should at least be settled by the thought that "self-control" is a sin-avoidance skill. 


There are stress-triggered malaises, and serious pathological conditions, where medication enables the patient to better "manage" their thoughts, words and behaviour. Is medication scriptural? Of course it is. So are there not also in Scripture therapeutic and preventative strategies to help us manage stress, optimize self-control and minimize the need for medication? Surely there are, even if our evangelical tradition may not have been too helpful in identifying them to us. That tradition is more liable to have presented us with a split-level life - i.e the Bible for "spiritual" problems and medicine for "physical" problems.

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HOME                  2. ZEN            4. PRAXIS
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4. Praxis
Our society is well aware of the need for daily physical exercise to maintain effective athletic, or even good "everyday", performance. However, we as a western society (and in some forms of evangelical society not least) can be rather skeptical of any kind of daily consciousness-type exercise to optimize performance. Obviously, the Christian will tend to ask if prayer and Bible-study does not adequately provide just such a "limbering" or "conditioning" (in the healing sense) of the personality. Well, the answer is probably kind of "Yes" and "No". It is, again, a pietistic notion and pitfall that mere reading of the Bible, (or praying, indeed) will bestow automatic spiritual benefit. We don't get that idea from Christ. Neither do we get it, for example, from James who of course tells us in his inimitable blunt style to be "doers of the Word and not hearers only". Or as the NIV has it:
 "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at  himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:22-25)
And just by-the-by, it is interesting that the following verses mention the matter of speech and self-control  - 
"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless" (James 1:26). He picks up this theme again in chapter 3 - "We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body... All kinds of animals...have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue" (James 3:2-8).  
So then, a glance in the mirror maketh us pretty not! We must pick up the face-cloth and comb and attend to our appearance. We must act. On a daily, routine basis. Grime sullies our face. Stress sullies and disfigures our thoughts, our behaviour, our speech. Are there daily routines we can look to? Are there stress-reducing approaches which are at all explicit in the Bible? Psalm 1 gives us one answer. It is Zen-like in its call for daily meditation, but distinctly un-Zen in its emphasis on Book, Law and Word. The latter is at variance with Zen in emphasizing verbal truth. For Zen (at least in its "universal one-ness" guise), words are obfuscation and distraction, and words pretending to metaphysical content are most suspect  -
"The wind is soft, the moon is serene.Calmly I read the True Word of no letters" (Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk: Zen Essays )
Ray Grigg quotes the foregoing in his very interesting book 'The Tao of Zen', but later adds -
"A commonly held misimpression of both Taoism and Zen is that they reject the use of words. They use words but they clearly understand the effects and the limits of them....The challenge, of course is to use words and not use words, and never to mistake the word for the thing. Philosophers in Chinese history became aware of the distinction between the reality of direct experience and the fiction created by the metaphorical spell of words. Their insight had a parallel in the Greek logic of Zeno's paradox, in which a runner who continues to cover half the remaining distance to a destination will never arrive...'One can in fact say things that sound right, but mean nothing at all'"(Ray Grigg, The Tao of Zen, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc, 1994) 
"And it is human nature to use words. Denying them is like denying walking or eating or loving. The trick is to use words without creating a metaphysical construct that takes on a life of its own. Both the Taoist and Zen traditions have an oral and written literature. But the wisdom their sages offer rests on the understanding that the choice cannot be between words or silence; it can only be both words and silence. Indeed a silent wordlessness would become an absolute, merely another metaphysic." (Ibid, p 197)
"'Words are the fog one has to see through,' as one saying puts it." (Ibid, p 194) 
Words, of course, differentiate aspects of reality, specify that "this" is not "that", and that "now" is not "then". The one-ness of Zen comes from transcending all differentiation, all specification, all paradox. Words distract from the physical "now", leading to abstract speculation which, for Zen, is inherently futile and delusive. Thus the question of a Zen initiate may well be answered not with words, but with a sharp slap or kick, to jolt him with a shock back into the realization (enlightenment) that the physical here and now is all the Truth there is. Zen is praxis.

The Christian relationship to words is fundamentally different, though there are surprising correspondences also. One correspondence is apparent in the letter of James already referred to above. James puts great weight on action rather than words as an index of an authentic grasp of the Truth. Then we think at once of passages such as:  
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

Some sense of the degree to which the Buddhist may feel comfortable with James is evident in the following excerpt from a book review by Amos Yong (Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia, USA) in the 
Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 34/2 (2007). The review is of "The Wisdom of James: Parallels with Mahāyāna Buddhism" by John P. Keenan -
This Mahāyāna reading of James unsurprisingly culminates at one place (among others) in the discourse on teaching and the untamed tongue in the middle of the epistle (3:1–12). From the Mahāyāna perspective, the problem of the tongue is neither merely its capacity for abuse nor only the possibility of false teachings, even if both are matters of concern. Rather, the problem more simply put is that verbal constructs emanate from the tongue. Insofar as discursive and prejudicial discrimination is dependent on words, to that same extent James’ concern can be understood with teaching itself as “an act of language-formed delusion” (p. 217 n4). Keenan thus suggests the virtue of one of the main heroes in the epistle, Job, is the exemplary silence that characterizes his faith (pp. 159–63; cp. 5:11–12 and Job 42:1–6).  
This understanding of Job dovetails not only with the broader observation, perennially noted by James interpreters, that the letter is devoid of doctrinal claims, but also with the fact that “James never identifies any conceptual content for the wisdom God gives” (p. 40). 
All of this is in line with the Mahāyāna tendency to subordinate conventionally articulated doctrinal teaching, because of its emptiness, to practical wisdom. But the Mahāyāna teachers themselves recognized emptiness is neither an end in itself nor to be grasped as such, since this would be to reify an abstraction. Hence recognition of the emptiness of conventional language leads the sage beyond speech to the embodiment of practical wisdom that is capable of transforming the world. Similarly, with James, “It is not that one should not think, but that one should not think within the framework of friendship with the world [cp. 2:23, 3:13–18, 4:4], within the measure of the world, where distinctions between rich and poor are very important, where the classes of society are almost metaphysical entities” (p. 138).  
On Keenan’s reading, then, the letter of James emphasizes “an operative wisdom that discerns needs and responds compassionately” (p. 119). In this framework, the goal of teaching is not discriminatory knowledge (of the world’s) but rather an understanding that leads to merciful compassion. But could we not also see the Mahāyāna tradition in light of James such that, if James is divinely revelatory, then the letter itself judges human thoughts and actions? 
If God is the ultimate judge, as Keenan rightly refuses to interpret away, then the insistence that James writes in the wisdom tradition of Torah interpretation and practice suggests it should be read as a prophetic tract through which divine imperatives and judgment appear with illocutionary force. In this case, a more dialectical and dialogical relationship between the New Testament and Mahāyāna Buddhism would see mutual illumination and transformation: the text of James is opened up through the Mahāyāna hermeneutic on the one hand, even as Mahāyāna discourse is itself called to accountability before the ultimate law and judgment of God on the other.  
(John P. Keenan, The Wisdom of James: Parallels with Mahāyāna Buddhism, New York and Mahwah, NJ: The Newman Press, 2005)
And a thoughtful Calvinist is unlikely to have too much problem with the following sentiments of Lu K’uan Yu (Charles Luk) (1898-1978) -
"As long as people are beguiled by words, they can never expect to penetrate to the heart of Zen. Why? Because words are merely a vehicle on which the truth is carried. Not understanding the meaning of the old masters and their koans, people try to find it in the words only, but they will find nothing there to lay their hands on. The truth itself is beyond all description, but it is by words that the truth is manifested. Let us, then, forget the words when we gain the truth itself. This is done only when we have an insight through experience into that which is indicated by the words."
For all the "truth-beyond-words" tenor of that last quote, it is significant that in the midst of it Lu K’uan Yu states that "words are merely a vehicle on which the truth is carried" and "it is by words that the truth is manifested". This is a necessary clarification by him, since any unqualified assertion that "the truth cannot be put into words" would be patently self-contradictory, and turn Lu K’uan Yu's very act of writing into a futile, even counter-productive, exercise. Of course, the anti-word koans are also comprised of words. So though Zen takes great pains to point beyond words, it is in practice not absolutist in this regard, recognizing the degree to which silence can be misconstrued even more than words.

I would say, nonetheless, that the Christian worldview, while also being wary of the deluding potential of words (
"for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" 2 Cor 3:6), is far less equivocal about endorsing words as viable vehicles of truth. Darwinian dogma would of course have words appearing far down the line (or up the tree?) of human evolution. For Darwinism words are refined grunts, with no transcendent reference - no 'lexicon' or 'grammar' in the heavens to arbitrate meaning. But the Bible has God walking and conversing with Adam "in the cool of the day" and explaining to him the purpose of his life. Words are thus 'grounded' in God, and humans 
(made in His image) had verbal revelation from God from the outset.

The Bible tells us that the 
Logos created the cosmos and sustains it by His "word of power" (Heb 1:3). And here we have another unlikely correspondence. Zen of course warns against peering at the finger instead of at the moon to which the finger points. Christians would concur in that sense, but also recognize that words per se also point to the Word. And the Moon itself points to the Word (the Logos) - to Him Who commanded "Let there be light!"


Compare this with Psalm 89:36,37 - "His throne is as secure as the sun, as eternal as the moon, my faithful witness in the sky!". One French translation renders this charmingly - "Tant que la lune sera là, fidèle témoin, derrière les nuages" (en français courant).

For the Calvinist, Christ the Word, the Logos, is not a metaphysical speculation. He is concrete reality. Indeed, as God, He is the only absolute concrete reality. All else derives its meaning from Him, is an echo of Him, is a shadow, a type, a referent of Him. 

Cornelius Van Til insists we must think concretely. "Truth", "Beauty", "Justice", "Logic", for example, are not simply human concepts. Yet neither do they have "out-there" self-existence (see also Dooyeweerd below). They are in fact modes of meaning sourced in God. Thus they are not, as Darwinists in their fundamentalist materialism would have it, "emergent properties" of reconstituted stardust called "Man". 

Likewise, language is not "accidental". It is not, as it were, the cosmic wind soughing from the Void. Rather, linguistic meaning derives from God. Herman Dooyeweerd [see Friesen site / Basden site], in fact posits a "Linguistic" or "Lingual" modality as an irreducible aspect to reality. Our preceding observation that even Zen cannot entirely discount words would seem to add support to the tenability of this. 

Interestingly, the first satanic act in Scripture was the murder of words (logocide?) - "Hath God said?" (Gen 3:1) (cf John 8: 43-47). Ultimately, words have currency because the Creator has used words to communicate truth. (For an extended consideration of the issue of the plurality of languages from a Biblical point of view please refer to the article "Creative Tensions:Personal Reflections of an Evangelical Christian and Gaelic Poet" [PDF]). There is also available an interesting analysis of the influence of the Christian worldview on early Chinese writing in a pdf file called "The Lamb of God hidden in the Ancient Chinese Characters".

Now, to return to 
Psalm 1. This psalm without doubt counsels us to think on Scripture often, and at least daily (and nightly!). But we see from James that Scripture does not teach that we should do nothing else but read Scripture (ie spend our lives simply staring in the "mirror"). Christ Himself did not give us such an example. Scripture teaches that we should rescue and rebuild the Earth to the glory of God. To pick up again on that Zen "finger and moon" image and modify it slightly (with the Scripture as "finger"), we might say that James warns us against "peering at the finger rather than at the Earth to which the finger (of Scripture) points" (Gen 1:28Matt 28: 18-20Mark 16:15, Acts 1: 8). 


The Mirror (the Pointing Finger) is indispensible. But James is reminding us that true piety does more than stare at Scripture. True piety acts on it. So, I suggest that Scripture allows that our mind may be employed in various modes, all of which should be compatible with "meditating on His law day and night". My Hebrew is elementary indeed, but I note with interest how this verse (Psalm 1:2) seems structured so that our eye jumps back from "בְתֹורָתֹו יֶהְגֶּה("law meditate") to "בְּתֹורַת יְהוָה("law of the LORD"). Thus calling our musings away from any detached abstraction and back into the presence of the One Who Lives. 
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HOME         3. Detachment         5. Nature

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5. Nature

Grass and trees have the buddha nature. They are not different from me. If I could just be like the grass and the trees, I'd find the Way in no time. Men nowadays won't go the Way: point it out, and they curse it. A wounded sigh for these folks: paupers gone begging on a mountain of gold. "Hymn on the Way" by Zen master Guan Xiu (Kuan Hsiu), 832 - 912. Translated by J.P. Seaton. The Literary Review

Interestingly, Christ's advice for escaping the stress of worry is to ponder nature - "Consider the ravens", "Consider how the lilies grow". Here again, though, we tend to skim these verses rather than plumb them. We perhaps treat the mention of "ravens" and "lilies" as no more than a couple of random nods in the direction of nature. As a memorandum that some time in the garden, or the odd "constitutional" walk in the park or country, can help soothe the troubled brow. We can surely venture deeper than this, though. Consider the ravens. They don't worry about tomorrow. Indeed, even less (one assumes) do they regret yesterday. Like all animals, they live in the "here and now". The lily is even less speculative. It waves its leaves about rather more slowly than the raven flaps its wings. I don't imagine for a moment that Christ was suggesting that we should not prepare for the future nor seek to mend the past. Or that we should habitually move like sloths. But I do imagine that when He gives advice, that advice is worth the deepest scrutiny. Is Christ signalling "gear-changes" in thought here which are available to humans, and that we could beneficially practice? (cf "A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones... A time to keep silence, And a time to speak... A time of war, And a time of peace" ). Different gears suit different driving conditions. Sometimes neutral is the appropriate position for the gear-stick. Revving in frustration at yet another red light may not be kind on the engine. Here is Christ's advice for coping with everyday stress - consider the (gear of?) ravens (cf Dooyeweerd's "sensitive"sphere (F/B), the realm of feeling/sentience/emotion, mentioned below). Consider the (gear of?) lilies (cf "biotic" sphere (F/B). This is not really so off the wall as it sounds at first. To sit and pat a pet dog, or stroke a cat, or talk to a budgie, involves rapport with the animal. Identification with the thought processes of the animal. Being on the animal's "wavelength". This practice is known to be de-stressing for the human. Tending house-plants likewise involves a therapeutic affinity with the plant. A focused attentiveness to the state of the plant. Zen of course also frequently alludes to rock and water (cf Dooyeweerd's "physical" sphere). Which of us has not done the equivalent of picking up a pebble from the beach or the river, and watching it change colour as it dried? This kind of practice goes on daily with no hangups over mystical baggage. People instinctively realize the benefits. It is just a short step to suggesting that perhaps to deliberately sit and gaze, mind in neutral (or "at ease", to use a military metaphor), at a house-plant (or office-plant) for a minute or two daily might help balance and condition our mental state. If we are stuck in the car at traffic lights when we are in a desperate hurry, can we learn to gaze for the duration at, for instance, that tree over there or that seagull wheeling overhead, slipping our mind (as well as the car) into calm neutral instead of "seeing red"?
We are supposed to be taking "every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor 10:5) We are told that "Thou dost keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee" Isaiah 26:3 (The Amplified Version renders this: "You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You"). Here are a couple more verses in this vein -"I saw the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand, that I should not be moved." (Psalm 16:8)"This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24)This is the hour that the Lord hath made. This is the minute that the Lord hath made...This is the red light that the Lord hath made!

Inner equilibrium. Founded on the sovereign Lord, the Living God.


After the execution of John the Baptist, Christ seeks out physical and mental (de-stressing) space for Himself and the disciples –

  
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." ... So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place . (Mark 6:30-32)


A stressed person feels overwhelmed by circumstance. The problem is "in his/her face". In martial arts a central tenet is to nurture an inner equilibrium whatever the onslaught faced. The loss of that calm inner space is potentially fatal. Western pugilistics often seem more taken-up with an "external" "mechanical" power-struggle.

The "
spatial" happens to be the second of Dooyeweerd's spheres, after the "numerical/quantative".  Zen-based oriental art is highly aware of empty space. It is evident in ikebana, traditional Japanese flower-arrangement, for example. Each stem, leaf and blossom is allowed room to breathe and "speak". The single lily is more "consider"-able than a dense bouquet. The lily, like any other plant or tree, needs space to grow. Consider it.  The sky above the earth speaks of space. Is space. The ravens fly in it. Without it they could not fly. There is a phenomenal amount of space out there. The galaxies spin in it. When we gaze up at night we can be awed by it. Calmed by it. Deep calls to deep in it. There seems to be a profound fundamental sense in which our thoughts as human beings are made possible (only?) by reference to the natural cosmos. The space of "Space" is analogous of our mental space. Are not our heads like unto planetariums? There is plenty of room - a universe of room - within our skulls, but we rarely glimpse that exhilarating fact.

As humans, we seem to need acquaintance with Nature to allow us to think at all. Our minds internalize our encounters with Nature and that engagement enables our thought. To again point out the demerits of pietism - if Christians did literally nothing but read the Bible, they could not understand the Bible, which ceaselessly refers to the world. The Bible therefore requires of its readers some degree of personal experience of living in the world, and living in the world is thus Biblically endorsed. The Bible is
not pietistic. The parables of Christ also presuppose that his hearers have world-immersed lives. All God's revelation to us is anthropomorphic (cosmomorphic?). We can in fact comprehend nothing else. Christ as the True Man is Prophet, Priest and King of the Cosmos. The human mind (analogous of His Mind) functions as an interpretative matrix of the cosmos. The galaxies and supernovae, the terrestrial clouds, waters, mountains, flora and fauna somehow form the deep structures of our thought, the syntax of our wordless internal language. I have coincidentally just come across an apposite quote from Dogen, 1200-1253, Japanese founder of Soto-Zen:


"I came to realize that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars." 


Each plant, creature, rock, somehow informs (in-forms) and expresses (ex-presses) our thought. It is more than symbol and representation. It is far more literal (concretely actual) than that. To be human is to live and articulate, physically and thought-fully, in this medium. And the Christian has glimpsed that this "medium", (like that "Rock") is, in some real sense, "Christ". All bushes burn with Him and all ground is holy with Him. I am not at all talking the evolutionist pantheist language of a Teilhard de Chardin here. Nor suggesting
any kind of pantheism. The Creation is not Christ in a pantheist sense. I am merely reiterating what Paul says in Romans 11:36, that "From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen". That Christ is the meaning of all things. That He is the meaning of the heavens and the earth and all that in them is. That nothing exists which is not ultimately about Him. That the earth is "full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea"(Isaiah 11:9). When you think about it, that Rock which accompanied Israel through the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4) was the True Promised Land, rather than Canaan. Christ is our Homeland too. Christ is our Universe. We are made in His image. In the new heavens and the new earth all that "is" shall explicitly refer to Him and extol Him (indeed it does so explicitly now also, but men "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" Romans 1:18). Let us consider (if we can get past the old-fashioned translation) the following pertininent - indeed remarkable - words of Calvin (a man unlikely to be accused of pantheism!):


Since the infinite wisdom of God is displayed in the admirable structure of heaven and earth, it is absolutely impossible to unfold The History of the Creation of the World in terms equal to its dignity. For while the measure of our capacity is too contracted to comprehend things of such magnitude, our tongue is equally incapable of giving a full and substantial account of them. As he, however, deserves praise, who, with modesty and reverence, applies himself to the consideration of the works of God, although he attain less than might be wished, so, if in this kind of employment, I endeavour to assist others according to the ability given to me, I trust that my service will be not less approved by pious men than accepted by God. I have chosen to premise this, for the sake not only of excusing myself, but of admonishing my readers, that if they sincerely wish to profit with me in meditating on the works of God, they must bring with them a sober, docile, mild, and humble spirit. We see, indeed, the world with our eyes, we tread the earth with our feet, we touch innumerable kinds of God's works with our hands, we inhale a sweet and pleasant fragrance from herbs and flowers, we enjoy boundless benefits; but in those very things of which we attain some knowledge, there dwells such an immensity of divine power, goodness, and wisdom, as absorbs all our senses. Therefore, let men be satisfied if they obtain only a moderate taste of them, suited to their capacity. And it becomes us so to press towards this mark during our whole life, that (even in extreme old age) we shall not repent of the progress we have made, if only we have advanced ever so little in our course...
I now return to the design of Moses, or rather of the Holy Spirit, who has spoken by his mouth. We know God, who is himself invisible, only through his works. Therefore, the Apostle elegantly styles the worlds, "ta me ek fainomenoon blepomena", as if one should say, "the manifestation of things not apparent," (Heb. 11: 3). This is the reason why the Lord, that he may invite us to the knowledge of himself, places the fabric of heaven and earth before our eyes, rendering himself, in a certain manner, manifest in them. For his eternal power and Godhead (as Paul says) are there exhibited, (Rom. 1: 20). And that declaration of David is most true, that the heavens, though without a tongue, are yet eloquent heralds of the glory of God, and that this most beautiful order of nature silently proclaims his admirable wisdom, (Ps. 19: 1). This is the more diligently to be observed, because so few pursue the right method of knowing God, while the greater part adhere to the creatures without any consideration of the Creator himself. For men are commonly subject to these two extremes; namely, that some, forgetful of God, apply the whole force of their mind to the consideration of nature; and others, overlooking the works of God, aspire with a foolish and insane curiosity to inquire into his Essence. Both labour in vain. To be so occupied in the investigation of the secrets of nature, as never to turn the eyes to its Author, is a most perverted study; and to enjoy everything in nature without acknowledging the Author of the benefit, is the basest ingratitude. Therefore, they who assume to be philosophers without Religion, and who, by speculating, so act as to remove God and all sense of piety far from them, will one day feel the force of the expression of Paul, related by Luke, that God has never left himself without witness, (Acts 14: 17). For they shall not be permitted to escape with impunity because they have been deaf and insensible to testimonies so illustrious. And, in truth, it is the part of culpable ignorance, never to see God, who everywhere gives signs of his presence. But if mockers now escape by their cavils, hereafter their terrible destruction will bear witness that they were ignorant of God, only because they were willingly and maliciously blinded. As for those who proudly soar above the world to seek God in his unveiled essence, it is impossible but that at length they should entangle themselves in a multitude of absurd figments. For God--by other means invisible--(as we have already said) clothes himself, so to speak, with the image of the world in which he would present himself to our contemplation. They who will not deign to behold him thus magnificently arrayed in the incomparable vesture of the heavens and the earth, afterwards suffer the just punishment of their proud contempt in their own ravings. Therefore, as soon as the name of God sounds in our ears, or the thought of him occurs to our minds, let us also clothe him with this most beautiful ornament; finally, let the world become our school if we desire rightly to know God. (Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, Argument) http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-01/cvgn1-02.txtCorrect me if I'm wrong, but is Jean Calvin not in fact doing the "Zen-master" bit here and sternly slapping us out of ungrounded abstract reverie and back to that which is concrete? Yet crucially, this does not imply for Calvin the embracing of any kind of reductionist materialism. Precisely not so. For Calvin it is in the material cosmos, and only in the material cosmos, that we encounter God (to be sure, the Scriptures are given as "eye-glasses" through which to view the cosmos with greater accuracy, as Calvin elsewhere teaches, but the point holds). Can we let that astounding fact sink in? Let us re-read Calvin's last few sentences all the more carefully:As for those who proudly soar above the world to seek God in his unveiled essence, it is impossible but that at length they should entangle themselves in a multitude of absurd figments. For God--by other means invisible--(as we have already said) clothes himself, so to speak, with the image of the world in which he would present himself to our contemplation. They who will not deign to behold him thus magnificently arrayed in the incomparable vesture of the heavens and the earth, afterwards suffer the just punishment of their proud contempt in their own ravings. Therefore, as soon as the name of God sounds in our ears, or the thought of him occurs to our minds, let us also clothe him with this most beautiful ornament; finally, let the world become our school if we desire rightly to know God.

Thus from a Calvinist point of view, our rationality and speech are not blank phenomena in a blank evolutionist cosmos. Our thoughts and words are not mere biochemical "white noise" - they are analogous of the eternal and infinite
Logos. Our bodies are analogous of His body in Whose image we are made. The universe, with its vast space, is analogous of Him. And therefore of us, who are made in His image. The space of the universe is a glimpse of the space of the freedom for which Christ has set us free. He is True Space. True Room-to-Breathe. True Freedom. "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:36)



6. Pattern

It is from Scripture that we learn how surpassingly the preceding counsel from Calvin was exemplified in the cosmos-anchored wisdom of Solomon:

God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore... He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1Kings 4:29-34 NIV)

We bring flowers to folk in hospital. Flowers are of course colourful (when we
consider lilies we discover that they are not all white). Petals are delicate. They are fragrant. They somehow speak of life. Of calm and balm. One of the many reasons why a plant or tree is consoling may be the matter of pattern. Pattern consists of a shape or colour or sound etc being repeated in series. The beat in music forms a pattern. The repeating days of the week (including the "Day of Rest") form a pattern to our lives. Pattern is reassuring. It signals security. We know where we are with pattern. It is predictable. So we put it on our walls and floors and ties and dresses. But if the sequence is overly uniform the pattern can become too predictable and therefore monotonous. While the beat of a piece of music provides a reassuring "grid" of recurrent sound - a pattern of sound, we of course normally expect a bit of less predictable playfulness (melody) to start bouncing around on this trampoline-grid. The grid is our safety-net. The grid is security. The melody is possibility. The leaves of a plant or tree are both the same and different from each other. An oak-leaf is recognizable as such. But there is no other oak-leaf which is an exact match. Trees may change with the seasons. Plants grow, sprout new leaves. They flower. The plant embodies variation on a theme. The theme is familiar. The variation is fresh. We have security and possibility. Safe adventure. There are patterns of movement also - The Canadian Barn Dance, for example. Predictable. Safe. Yet always the pleasure of the random... 

It has been noted in cases of brain-damaged children that daily regimes of "patterning" movements can sometimes lead to enhanced brain-functioning. The conviction here is that as healthy infants learn to crawl and walk and gain general motor control, the physical repetition of movement is programming the brain and aiding cognition. The brain of a child with no mobility at this developmental stage may be missing out on this. Some parents of disabled children have gone to great, indeed heroic, lengths to ensure their disabled child has a daily routine of physio to compensate as far as possible for restricted capacity through cerebral palsy or whatever. Cognition is thought to be enhanced by this "patterning". Neural pathways established or enhanced. And if the principle holds at all, does it not hold for all? Daily exercise enhancing not only muscle and heart-function, but also mood and brain-function.

Plants are not static, though we seldom see them move. They don't appear to wave us goodbye (rather difficult to tell!). The wind (
ruach, pneuma) of course also activates the trees and garden-shrubs. If we bring together the focus on plants and on their so-very-slow movement it brings to mind T'ai Chi (of which there are various kinds). Again, fears of mythology and mysticism put us on guard (understandably enough). Yet we would have no trouble with a nursery teacher of our kids saying to the class - "I want you to make yourself as small as you can and pretend you are a flower seed. What kind of seed do you want to be? A Tulip? A Daffodil? You are asleep all the cold winter snugly deep in the ground. Now the Spring has come and the warm sun is smiling on you. I want you to slowly, veerry sloooowly open up and stretch upwards...." What exactly is our difficulty as adults (beyond possible social embarrassment!) about an exercise involving the slow graceful movement of our limbs like a tree in a gentle breeze?

 A (demystified) nature-focused T'ai-Chi-like routine offers practice in calming the mind, while its low-gear slow-movement patterns, as suggested above, would seem to be therapeutic for the brain. I am well aware that most Western evangelicals would be, by reflex, wary of this. Can we really have a problem with sitting or standing in quietness for a minute or two focusing on a God-created plant, tree, the sea, or other natural form? Surely not! And are not sit-ups, press-ups and jogging also kosher? Yet T'ai-Chi-type slowness is ("spiritually"?) problematic. There seems to be a point, as the speedometer falls, at which a red-light starts flashing on the Western evangelical dashboard. Christianity is rather a fast-lane, top-gear, matter, it seems.  


Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
(Romans 12:1,2 NIV)



7. Sovereignty of God

"And from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be"

(George Matheson, 1842-1906)
How I long to see among dawn flowers the face of God. (Matsuo Basho, 1644-1694)


There is a ready acceptance of given concrete situations in Zen which seems not to fall victim (contrary to expectation) to a despondent fatalism. It is more robust and more positive in tone than that. Curiously, as we have noticed, one almost catches a whiff reminiscent of the aroma-therapeutic Calvinist flower of the absolute sovereignty of God, a blossom which quietly adorns the hospital bedside of our smitten universe. A blossom which intimates the imminent all-healing of both cosmic and personal pain: "And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev 22:2). A Calvinist flower whose petals gentle the mind with the (however unlikely) rightness of Now: "everything beautiful in its time","A time to live and a time to die". This biblical "content-in-all-circumstances" trait is, as we have seen above, echoed in Zen. Is this a kind of "Common Grace" wisdom?

Lest the foregoing be still misunderstood as fatalistic and as offensively oblivious of life's horrors, we should stress anew two points of clarification. Firstly, commitment to the sovereignty of God is not in the least incompatible with the most intense of struggles to overturn adverse circumstances. Secondly, it is of course to be understood rather as a personal credo of fortitude than as promiscuously proferred counsel. When Job's friends sat silently and wept with him in compassionate solidarity they were indeed his "comforters". When they began to theorize over the supposed metaphysics of his plight, they became obnoxious. They grievously added to Job's woes by, as it were, sacrificing him on the altar of abstraction. And should anyone complain that there is a paradox between submission to the sovereign will of God and any endeavour to better current circumstance, I would point out that this so-called "paradox" is apparent even in the prayer Christ taught His disciples. On the one hand there is the confession:
"Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory". On the other hand, there is the supplication: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".

So we can thus perhaps begin to appreciate that simply mouthing the words "sovereignty of God" does not magically grant serene composure to the Calvinist facing a meltdown level of stress. Far from it. While certainly for the Calvinist the sovereignty of God remains the only possible deliverance from blank loss, that very sovereignty can also provoke crushing perpexities. In his commentary on the
Book of Job, Francis I. Andersen has the following to say:


The intense faith of Job immediately sees the hand of God in every 'natural' event. There are no 'accidents' in a universe ruled by the one sovereign Lord. Hence Job's problem. Such mishaps are not a problem for the polytheist, the dualist, the atheist, the naturalist, the fatalist, the materialist, the agnostic. An annoyance, a tragedy even, but not a problem. Suffering caused by human wickedness or by the forces of nature is ultimately a problem only for a believer in the one Creator who is both good and almighty; so this problem can arise only within the Bible with its distinctive moral monotheism...
Job sees only the hand of God in these events. It never occurs to him to curse the desert brigands, to curse the frontier guards, to curse his own stupid servants, now lying dead for their watchlessness. All secondary causes vanish. It was the Lord who gave; it was the Lord who removed; and in the Lord alone must the explanation for these strange happenings be sought...
Job's faith does not relieve his agony; it causes it.
Francis I Andersen,
Job: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, IVP, pp 86, 88, 89


And here is a pertinent Zen consideration of such matters (quoted by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith in his online article "Zen: A Trinitarian Critique":


Now we shall consider the case of a hungry lion. He is a ferocious wild animal. He has no scruples against attacking a pack of deer peacefully grazing in the field. He will choose a ground of vantage and suddenly rushing into the group pounce upon one which happens to be not quick enough to avoid the enemy. . . . In this he has no vain desire to prove his prowess against the weaker. His biological urge makes him act in the way he naturally displays. He has neither pride nor remorse nor the feeling of anything that he ought not to have done. He is perfectly innocent of all these human feelings. He has absolutely no repentance, as he has no sense of duty and responsibility. He has simply executed what his nature demands. . . . As long as the world is so constituted and one life subsists on another, it is like a gale passing over a garden, everything in its passage has to give itself to the raging force of Nature. There is here no killer, no killing, and no killed. The lion is just as innocent as the atmospheric commotion. If there is anyone who is responsible for all this carnage, the Creator is the one and nobody else. [Daisetz T. Suzuki, "Zen and Parapsychology" in Philosophy and Culture -- East and West: East-West Philosophy in Practical Perspective, ed. Charles A. Moore (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1968), pp. 740-41] 


As we meet the first-person narrator at the start of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, we quickly discover that he has recovered (or has he?) from a major mental breakdown (perhaps insanity). The central philosophical strand of the book is a gradual unfolding, epiphany even, of what the narrator can piece together of his former self's insight into "Quality". "Quality" (as presented in the book) transcends "subjective" and "objective". It transcends also the western world's intractable struggle between "romantic" and "classical" mindsets.

Despite its title, the book carries a disclaimer which says (in part) that
"it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice".  However, Zen does come in for mention, and moreover it is clear that Pirsig sees major affinities, if not complete consonance, between "Quality" and the "Tao". Pirsig's pre-breakdown self (who he calls Phaedrus) is reading Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching:


"He had broken the code. He read on. Line after line. Page after page. Not a discrepancy. What he had been talking about all the time as Quality was here the Tao, the great central generating force of all religions, Oriental and Occidental, past and present, all knowledge, everything."
Robert M. Pirsig,
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, Vintage, 1999, p 254)


A key part of the complex storyline of this exceptional book centres on Pirsig's estranged yet poignant relationship with Chris, his teenage son, who rides pillion during Pirsig's trans-American motorcycle journey. The book was first published in 1974. In an afterword (written around 1984?), Pirsig shares the shocking news that in 1979 his son, then aged 23, was brutally stabbed to death in San Francisco as he left the Zen Center where he (Chris) was a student. Pirsig's first comment surely touches the common humanity of all who have shared, or come near to sharing, such grief:


"I go on living, more from force of habit than anything else." (Ibid p 415)


He then describes his need to find some shape for it all:


I tend to become taken with philosophic questions, going over them and over them and over them again in loops that go round and round and round until they either produce an answer or become so repetitively locked on they become psychiatrically dangerous, and now the question became obsessive: "Where did he go?" (Ibid p 416)


Such resolution as Pirsig arrives at, or at least shares, begins with talk of "pattern", which sounds vaguely scientific, but in this context (to me at least) disagreeably impersonal. The language register then transposes to bring to mind reincarnation (though the term as such is not used). So Pirsig at this point anyway, would seem to be finding his deepest solace in a Buddhist framework, though his overall terminology is somewhat prevaricating, as if he is allowing different ways of conceptualizing (or maybe he is simply and honestly unresolved): 


"What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it. The pattern was larger than Chris and myself, and related us in ways that neither of us understood completely and neither of us was in complete control of. Now Chris's body, which was a part of that larger pattern, was gone. But the larger pattern remained. A huge hole had been torn out of the center of it, and that was what caused all the heartache. The pattern was looking for something to attach to and couldn't find anything.....If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh and bones of Chris and call it the "spirit" of Chris or the "ghost" of Chris, then you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter....In any event it was not many months later that my wife conceived, unexpectedly.... So I guess you could say, in this primitive way of looking at things, that Chris got his airplane ticket after all. This time he's a little girl named Nell and our life is back in perspective again. The hole in the pattern is being mended. (Ibid, p 417)


Despite the huge common ground emotionally and existentially in such matters, the Calvinist would not of course countenance any talk of reincarnation. Rebirth, yes. As Christ explains to Nicodemus:


Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."  In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."  "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"  Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."  "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked.  "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3:1-18 NIV)


It is in this context, of course, that Calvinism faces the most extreme outrage and censure. For if God is absolutely sovereign, is it not a sick joke to imply that we have any real choice whether to "believe" or to "disbelieve"? The Calvinist answer is that God's sovereignty is absolute. And humans are responsible for their choices. Zen lives with paradox. So do we. Not that I accept for a moment that the Calvinist position is incoherent. On the contrary. Coherence requires the sovereignty of God. Human responsibility requires the sovereignty of God. Without that sovereignty we instantaneously plummet through the metaphysics of white noise into the absolute silence of not even nothing.

So if God is both good and sovereign, why is the world in such dire straits? Precisely because human choices
are real choices with real repercussions. The Apostle Paul certainly considered those who reject God to be responsible, and therefore culpable -


The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1: 18-20 NIV)

As discussed elsewhere in this essay, the meaning of the cosmos flows from God via Man. The first man, Adam, was the Root of mankind. When he rejected the Creator's explanation of reality in favour of his own, the cosmos was automatically blighted. This was the Fall. Christ, the Second Man, the Last Adam, is the new Root of mankind. In him mankind chooses anew God's explanation of reality. Thus it is the cosmos (not just the human "soul") that is being redeemed in Christ.

Spiritual rebirth. Physical resurrection. With Christ, by the sovereignty of God, as guarantor. That is the Calvinist worldview. If I might repeat my earlier quote from Dooyeweerd:


Nothing in our apostate world can get lost in Christ. There is not any part of space, there is no temporal life, no temporal movement or temporal energy, no temporal power, wisdom, beauty, love, faith or justice, which sinful reality can maintain as a kind of property of its own apart from Christ.
(Herman Dooyeweerd, "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought" Vol II, p 34)

The wind blows wherever it pleases:


Zen master Baoche of Mt. Mayu was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, "Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. When, then, do you fan yourself?" "Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent," Baoche replied, "you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere." "What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?" asked the monk again. The master just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.
(Written by Dōgen in 1233. Translated by Robert Aitken and Kazuaki Tanahashi) http://www.thezensite.com/ZenTeachings/Dogen_Teachings/GenjoKoan_Aitken.htm



8. Cornelius Van Til: Polarities and Paradoxes
I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur
Extremes meet—it’s the only way I ken
To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt
That damns the vast majority o’ men.

(from
"A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle" by Hugh MacDiarmid)

Apart from its central fatal failure to acknowledge the Creator, Zen's main flaw would seem to lie in its (consequent) propensity for flipping paradoxically from concreteness to emptiness. One is in the skiff (or sampan?) enjoying the balmy breeze, the elemental ear-caressing lap of water on resonant wood, when suddenly one is unceremoniously capsized and plunged deep into a bottomless sea where all is illusion/delusion -


Limpid ocean, clear sky,
and moon-reflecting snow;
this is the realm
without a trace of
the holy and sentient.
At the opening
of the diamond eye,
flowers of vanity fall.
The whole universe
vanishes into the realm
of extinction.
 - Han-Shan Te-Ch’ing (1586)


All things are
perfectly
resolved in the
Unborn.
- Bankei (1622-1693)


Is there thus a constructive Zen and a destructive, subjectivist, Hyper-Zen, much as there is a constructive Calvinism and a destructive, subjectivist, Hyper-Calvinism? Within the Hyper-Zen worldview survival depends on the acceptence of the (paradoxically) illusory nature of the "concrete". One wonders again if this is a Buddhist hijacking of the Zen boat (see below [as it were!]). Compare in that regard these further snippets from "Zen Flesh Zen Bones" -

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four travelling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves. While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: "There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?" One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind." "Your head must feel very heavy," observed Hogen, "if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind."   

***
Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received." Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry. "If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

In his book "The Tao of Zen" Ray Grigg is at pains to disengage historical "Zen" from what he sees as the encumbering and compromising theology of the Buddhism which subsumed and engulfed it:


    "Put succinctly, Zen is Chinese but Buddhism is not; Zen Buddhism is the anomaly of putting together two incompatibles. Ch'an [Chinese for "Zen"] became a form of Taoism housed within the institution of Mahayana Buddhism. The interplay of these contradictory styles of Chinese and Indian thought has still not been officially resolved because the present form of Ch'an in Japan is still called Zen Buddhism....Indeed, a Zen aphorism offers the rather stunning reminder, 'If you meet the Buddha, kill him!'... But (Zen's) accomodation (of paradox) hides the difference between Zen and Buddhism. There are similarities between them, but the differences are great enough that the two must be regarded as separate systems. Buddhism, in effect, rejects the world, viewing it as a place of suffering, transience, and imperfection; Zen accepts the world exactly as it is, unconditionally receiving whatever experience is offered."(Ray Grigg, "The Tao of Zen" Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc, 1994)

Compare Grigg's "pro-Zen, anti-Buddhist" quote above with the following from Te-shan (780-865) -


“Enlightenment” and “Nirvana”?
They are dead trees
to fasten a donkey to.
The (Buddhist) scriptures?
They are bits of paper
to wipe mud from your face.
The four merits and the ten steps?
They are ghosts in their graves.
What can these things
have to do with you
becoming free?


In the same context, Grigg quotes Alan Watts (from "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen", 1959) - 


"The old Chinese Zen masters were steeped in Taoism. They saw nature in its total interrelatedness, and saw that every creature and every experience is in accord with the Tao of nature just as it is. This enabled them to accept themselves as they were, moment by moment, without the least need to justify anything... "In the landscape of Spring there is neither better nor worse. The flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short."


However justified is Grigg's clearly partisan disentangling of Zen from Buddhism, there is in his statement - "Buddhism rejects the world... Zen accepts the world"- an intriguing echo of the ancient Greek "form versus matter" dichotomy which has dominated Western thought for millenia. It is patent from Dooyeweerd's and Van Til's thought that when any human system makes an absolute of that which is relative (and only the true God is NOT relative), the counter-absolute sooner or later manifests itself.
The form/matter split can be clearly detected in Western thinking down to our own day. It appears, for example, in humanism as a polarization between "nature" and "freedom", or between "science" and "personality". Via his synthesis of Aristotelean thought and biblical doctrine, Thomas Aquinas ensured that the "form/matter" divide prevailed also in much Christian thought, under the guise of "nature" versus
"grace". This latter dichotomy is evident in the mindset of those many Christians for whom the gospel is really of relevance only in the realm of the "soul", the "spiritual", the "afterlife" etc. In contrast, cultural, political, technological, etc, issues of our everyday physical world are regarded by these same Christians as autonomous or even antipathetic as far as the gospel is concerned. Calvin's opus provided a biblical detox, or recalibration, of Christianity. In practice, however, many who deem themselves to be Calvinists still lug with them the encumbering baggage of Aquinas (and hence of Ancient Greece). So if Buddhism "rejects the world", the same can alas be said of certain strands of "Calvinism"."Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is much concerned throughout with this Greek-bequeathed mental split. As mentioned briefly above, Pirsig is convinced that his insight into "Quality" provides the answer. In terms of Eastern philosophy, he identifies "Quality" with the "Tao".  He spends more time, however, articulating his case in terms of Western philosophy, summarizing the history of the form/matter dichotomy, and his own breakthrough concerning it, mainly on pages 371 to 381 (Edition: Vintage 1999). Essentially, he is persuaded that the Homeric worldview (as displayed in the "Iliad") was dominant prior to the split, and was pervaded by the motif of "Quality". The Sophists, whom Plato and Aristotle fiercely opposed, had in fact been champions of "Quality". The key word in Greek was "aretê", typically and rather mundanely translated into English as "virtue". The breakthrough for Pirsig was when he learned that it was better rendered as "excellence". He (or at least his alter ego "Phaedrus") suddenly realizes that "Quality" transcends all dichotomies between and within Eastern and Western worldviews. He is reading H.D.F. Kitto's "The Greeks", and considering a passage of the "Iliad":


     Phaedrus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of "duty to self" which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the "one" of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the Greeks be identical?
     Then Phaedrus feels a tugging to read the passage again, and he does so and then ... what's this?! ...
"That which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek 'excellence'."
     Lightning hits!
    
Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue". But "aretê". Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute. Those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality...
(
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"  pp376, 377)

Dooyeweerd includes his own
survey of the Greek origins of the "form/matter"divide in his excellent book In the Twilight of Western Thought. Dooyeweerd uncovers the origins of this paradox in the irreconcilable religious ground-motifs of early Greece. Public worship majored on rational form and civic duty (symbolized in Apollo), but domestic allegience was atavistically attached more to the earlier nameless gods of being and becoming, of formless matter and anangke (symbolized in the orgiastic Dionysus). Cornelius Van Til also characterizes the issue philosophically as a polarization between the "One" and the "Many". Between the "Universal" and the "Particular". Laws seem ultimately incompatible with particulars, and particulars seem ultimately incompatible with laws. Neo-Classicism, for instance, optimistically asserted rationalistic universal laws. When this optimism soured (eg as the classical ideals of the French Revolution collapsed into the Reign of Terror, and the rationalistic Industrial Revolution spawned slum-misery and slavery), Romanticism in its disillusioned reaction emphasised irrationality and transience. The emotions of any given moment. The lawless particular.As Van Til points out, humanism switches at the drop of a hat between its notion of a cosmos which is exhaustively law-based, thus rationally "lit-up" and all-knowable, (indeed "all-known" to the extent that God can be confidently asserted as non-existent) and its notion of an irrationalist cosmos which is born of mystery and blind accident and is ultimately un-knowable (and so the idea of an absolute, predestining God is untenable). The former is identified by Van Til as humanism's "principle of continuity", and the latter as its "principle of discontinuity". Humanism cannot reconcile the two. Van Til further explains that the Christian's "principle of continuity" is the infinitely exhaustive knowledge that God has of Himself and of His creation. Likewise, the Christian's "principle of discontinuity" is the inescapably finite nature of our own knowledge - which can never be, even in eternity, exhaustive. The Christian's knowledge can nontheless be true and dependable as far as it goes. Marine mountain tops - truth revealed - may jut above sea-level as islands to provide solid anchorage and footing, while the fundamental connexion between the mountains - truth unrevealed - remains unseen and unmapped. The two Christian "principles" are patently compatible.

So what of Buddhism and Zen? The
"principle of continuity" here would appear to lie in the absolute (metaphysical) dissolution of all differentiation. The "principle of discontinuity" in the absolute (anti-metaphysical) concreteness of each particular. Paradox is rather more apparent than compatibility. Yet Ray Grigg, for example, would persuade us that both "plates", as it were, can be kept (or indeed cannot be stopped from?) spinning. In stereoscopic, binary oneness. In gyroscopic, dynamic stillness. Grigg informs us (bear in mind that he wishes to emancipate Zen from Buddhism) -


Paradox is much more Taoist than Buddhist. The Buddhist inclination is to move toward a resolution of duality - "not two, but one" - and thus become a religious system. The shortcomings of this Indian notion of oneness is that it denigrates separateness, distinction and differences. Paradoxically, a larger oneness must exclude oneness to allow separateness. This paradox is what distinguishes the Taoist-like qualities of Chinese Ch'an from Mahayana Buddhism, and connects Zen to Taoism. The intellectual play that pervades Zen and elevates awareness while leaving it free from systems, is really a Taoist quality...
Of course, there are no opposites,  just as there is no fixed state of balance. They are an intellectual convention, a convenience of mind, a habit of thinking that partitions wholeness into thought's duality. Perhaps opposites are simply projections of an internal bilateral symmetry, a brain fashioning everything into the left and right halves of its divided self. Fortunately, there is just one head; and two opposite hands can come together to symbolize a balanced wholeness...
Buddhism attempts to resolve duality with a metaphysical absolute, whereas Taoism and Zen suspend any resolution in the creative tension between the alternative extremes - both of which, incidentally, are absolutes. This is why the Way can never be conceptually located, why any effort to understand it is self-contradictory and self-defeating. The Way, once caught, would become an absolute that would stop the dynamic flow of insight, that would break the creative tension which exists as balanced stillness in Taoism and Zen. Neither balance nor stillness is absolute; both are constantly shifting states of presence in the equilibrium of the moment. So Buddhism, by venerating the Buddha and making holy the sutras, becomes a religion; whereas Zen, in contrast, advises that the Buddha be killed...
The objective in both Taoism and Zen is to put the opposites together while leaving them apart. The opposites are resolved and not resolved. The result is that "we do not know what to say." Insight is pressed beyond words....The purpose is to shift thought into a nonlinear mode and thereby arrive at an awareness that hangs alert in a suspended and unresolved balance. Some sense of this condition and its purpose is offered in the Zen observation: "The Truth is that everything is One, and this of course is not a numerical one".
(Ray Grigg,
The Tao of Zen, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc, 1994, pp 275, 255, 199, 225)

Thus, in Zen terms, the solution lies not in any 'rationalist' reconciliation at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. From the Zen perspective, paradox must be recognized as endemic to existence. Both sides are simultaneously true and false. We do not choose between them. We rather detach from both sides and transcend the paradox by accepting the paradox. Or is that to
deny the paradox?  Words cannot deal with these matters -


"Paradox, paradoxically, leads to something not paradoxical. Words on the subject of Taoism and Zen are necessary folly; herein lies their justification." (Ibid, p186)



"Do not pursue the outer conditions
nor dwell in the inner void.
Rest yourself in oneness with things
and all barriers will disappear"
(
Seng Ts’an, 526-606)


Besides the tensions between "the one and the many", "the particular and the universal", Calvinism also countenances other apparent dichotomies such as insistence on both God's sovereignty and human responsibility, or reconciling the existence of evil in a universe created by a holy and almighty God. Actually, it would seem that apparent antinomies are basic to all epistemologies. So Zen is to that extent correct to point up the fact that existence is characterized by paradox. But the Calvinist is confident that all such enigmas are resolved in the mystery of the Triune Godhead, which by its very nature demonstrates the equal ultimacy of the "One" and the "Many". Cornelius Van Til has much to say on the matter of "paradox", and it is to the Trinity he refers us for resolution -    

"Our (Calvinist) position is naturally charged with being self-contradictory. It might seem at first glance as though we were willing, with the dialectical theologians, to accept the really contradictory. Yet such is not the case. In fact we hold that our position is the only position that saves one from the necessity of ultimately accepting the really contradictory. We argue that unless we may hold to the presupposition of the self-contained ontological trinity, human rationality itself is a mirage. But to hold to this position requires us to say that while we shun as poison the idea of the really contradictory we embrace with passion the idea of the
apparently contradictory. It is through the latter alone that we can reject the former. If it is the self-contained ontological trinity that we need for the rationality of our interpretation of life, it is this same ontological trinity that requires us to hold to the apparently contradictory...

We can and must maintain that the Christian position is the only position that does not destroy reason itself. But this is not to say that the relation between human responsibility and the counsel of God is not
apparently contradictory. That all things in history are determined by God must always seem, at first sight, to contradict the genuineness of my choice." (Common Grace and the Gospel by Cornelius van Til, pp 9, 10)


In a short article critiquing postmodernism in the light of Van Til, Jacob Gabriel Hale says:


Though much of postmodernism postdates the bulk of Van Til’s intellectual enterprise, much of Van Til’s thought is directly applicable to some concerns that postmodernism has raised. Much like Derrida, Van Til was quick to point out the inherent contradiction of modern thought. According to Van Til, any attempt to ground knowledge in abstract, impersonal principles such as reason, sense data, logic, a logos, a “one”, or any other unifying metaphysical principle, would inevitably collapse or “deconstruct” under the weight of its own contradictions. The clearest example of this critique is not only found in Van Til’s analysis of western philosophers from Plato through the modern period, but in the traditional problem of the one and many. According to Van Til, the history of western thought can be summarized as an attempt to give a holistic explanation of “things” in relation to the particulars of reality and their universal characteristics. This is certainly true of Plato and Aristotle, but Van Til maintains that this theme runs through the whole of western philosophy. From nominalism, to Cartesian dualism, from Spinoza’s panentheism, to Kant’s transcendental idealism, from Nietzsche’s will-to-power, to Husserl’s presence, every attempt to assert a philosophy of “things” is an attempt to explain both the universality and particularity of our world and how it relates to the content of our consciousness. In other words, it is an attempt to ground absolute knowledge of the world in finite impersonal “things”. For Van Til, these attempts are inherently flawed because they attempt to reason autonomously, not only independent of bias, which is itself impossible, but also independent of God. For this reason, philosophies that attempt to uncover a logos, a being, an organizing metaphysical principle that in turn grounds knowledge and provides an absolute foundation for knowledge is doomed from the outset. Through his analysis of western thought, Van Til shows how philosophy after philosophy deconstructs itself into irrationalism. ("Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism: An Essay" by Jacob Gabriel Hale)


We note again that though Van Til champions human rationality, he remains an implacable opponent of rationalism. Van Til recognized and rejected rationalism as an impossible totalitarian project born of humanist hubris which presupposes the possession of exhaustive universal knowledge. For Van Til such is not and never shall be the preserve of creatures, who must therefore pursue rationality with all vigour yet in the humble awareness that mysterious chasms will be a perennial feature of one's journey. The crucial point here is that Van Til founds his inner equilibrium not on a (purportedly) seamlessly-woven rationalistic web of abstract knowledge (theology included) but on the "ontological Trinity". Not, that is, on theoretical abstraction, but on actuality, indeed on the Living God Who created and sustains actuality and Who floods it with all meaning.There are highly significant contrasts between the thought of Van Til and Dooyeweerd, central among which concerning the role of Scriptural text (see Section 14 below). There is also a signal irony in the fact that two men who spent their distinguished careers in a relentless quest to uncover and extirpate all Thomistic dualism from Reformed thinking should end by pointing the finger at each other in just this regard. For those interested, a key altercation can be found in the book of essays "Jerusalem & Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til", edited by E. R. Geehan, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company, 1993). The main locus of contention appears to be the opening pages of Dooyeweerd's "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought". Van Til was on board with the original Dutch version ("De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee"), but took serious issue with the reworked argument with which Dooyeweerd opens the English translation. It needs to be borne in mind that the over-riding theme of Van Til's own opus could be summarized in a sentence from the quote above, i.e,"the Christian position is the only position that does not destroy reason itself". Thus, for Van Til there is no "neutral" rationality that both the Christian and the non-Christian can use as common ground for dialogue (all of us are already predisposed one way or another before we even begin to think - so also Dooyeweerd argues). As some have misconstrued Van Til's approach here, let it be made perfectly clear that he did still believe, and supremely so, in the fruitfulness of rational dialogue with all comers. Nonetheless, he was entirely convinced that rationality must be first borrowed from God (there is no other source) before it can be turned against Him. As Van Til says elsewhere: 


"Antitheism presupposes theism. One must stand upon the solid ground of theism to be an effective antitheist" (Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, den Dulk Christian Foundation, 1969).

To re-iterate then, Van Til's case was that rationality cannot be neutral because it necessarily and exhaustively testifies (as does
all of creation) to the Creator, the triune God of Scripture. The non-Christian can and does employ rationality, sure, but only by simultaneously suppressing the awareness that it intrinsically and comprehensively confirms the God whom he/she denies. The non-Christian cannot ultimately "account for" the rationality he/she employs. This means that the most conclusive proof for Christianity is not the typical cumulative check-list of "evidences". Though such are certainly there to be presented, and Van Til supported this procedure as far as it goes, he pointed out that they can only ever demonstrate that "a" God is "possible", or, at best, "probable". For Van Til, the Living God is not "possibly" there or "probably" there. He is there. Therefore Christians who argue for a "possible", or "probable", God, are not arguing for the God of Scripture but for a theological abstraction. Moreover, evidentialism assumes an "objectivity", i.e. a rational neutrality, on the part of the one assessing the evidences. No such objectivity exists. We are all biased in our hearts before engaging our rationality. What one person finds convincing will leave someone else unmoved. A buzz saw can be as sharp as you like, but if it its setting is not true it will invariably cut athwart, however cleanly. Thus for Van Til, while the case for Christianity is supported by evidences, it is only proven by what might be termed "the impossibility of the contrary" - i.e., no other system of thought can be ultimately coherent, because it must sooner or later expose itself as being at variance with reality. At variance indeed with the very logic by which it endeavours to espouse its case.

What disturbed Van Til was that though the
"New Critique" clearly endorses and expounds in great depth the view that we have a holistic heart commitment which both prevents (old sense also) and precipitates our logic, he felt that Dooyeweerd was now at the outset of his English translation being inexplicably inconsistent by invoking neutral "states of affairs" as a common ground of all philosophy. Dooyeweerd forcefully rejected this accusation of neutralism, countering that in the first place he had not changed his position since the Dutch version (he had merely "sharpened" it), and that in the second place if Van Til was incapable of recognizing the validity of the Critique's opening argument it was because of the marked rationalist tendency in Van Til's own thinking. Dooyeweerd could hardly have levelled a more cutting charge against this man. Here is a flavour of the exchange in "Jerusalem & Athens" -

Dooyeweerd to Van Til:


     The task of a transcendental critique, which makes this theoretical attitude as such a critical problem, is quite different from that of a theological apologetics. It does not aim at a "defense of the Christian faith" but at laying bare the central influence of the different religious, basic motives upon the philosophical trends of thought. For that purpose it was necessary to show the inner point of contact between theoretical thought and its supra-theoretical presuppositions which relate to the central religious sphere of human existence. This is why this transcendental critique is obliged to begin with an inquiry into the inner nature and structure of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience as such and not with a confession of faith. In this first phase of the critical investigation such a confession would be out of place. Not because the first question raised by our transcendental critique might be answered apart from the central religious starting point of those who take part in the philosophical dialogue, but because the necessity of such a starting-point has not yet come up for discussion. For, so long as the dogma concerning the autonomy of theoretical thought has not been subjected to a transcendental critique, adherents of this dogma who enter into a dialogue with the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea might rightly confine themselves to the simple statement that theoretical philosophy has nothing to do with questions of faith and religion. In other words, the dialogue would be cut off before it could start.
     The confrontation between the biblical and the non-biblical ground motives of theoretical thought belongs to the third and last phase of the transcendental critique. Only in this phase the transcendental problem crops up concerning the possibility of a concentric direction of theoretical thinking to the human ego, as its central reference point, and concerning the inner nature of the latter.
(pp 76,77)

*  *  *  *  *
     Asking myself what may have induced you to ascribe to the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea such a dialectical dualism, I find myself confronted with, what I fear to be, a typical rationalistic scholastic tendency in your theological thought. This tendency reveals itself first in your objections against my distinction between theoretical conceptual knowledge, and the central religious self-knowledge and knowledge of God. On this point you appear to agree with the neo-scholastic thinkers, Robbins and Mrs. Conradie, and in some degree also with van Peursen. I fear your rationalism may go even further than that of the neo-scholastic thinkers mentioned, for the latter have never claimed that philosophical ideas are to be derived from the supra-natural truths of divine revelation, and that is exactly what you seem to defend. (p 81)

    
God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture as Creator and Redeemer concerns the central religious relation of man to his absolute Origin. Its true meaning is to be understood by man only if his heart has been opened up to it through the moving power of the Holy Ghost, which is the dunamis of the biblical Word-revelation. What is said here about the dunamis of the biblical Word-revelation and the central role of the heart in the understanding of its meaning is in complete accordance with the biblical testimony (cf. Isa. 6:10-13; Acts 16:14) and with the opinion of Calvin (cf. the citations from the Institutes in New Critique, I/516/7). But you place it "over against the simple thought-content of Scripture" and are of the opinion that it adds still further to the ambiguity of my transcendental critique. You think so, however, not on biblical ground, but in consequence of a rationalistic view of the Word-revelation and of the religious relation of man to God, which, you feel, is of a rational-ethical character. This rationalism implies a relapse into a metaphysical theory of the intrinsical divine being and its attributes, which Calvin called "vacuo et meteorica speculatio". (p 86)

Van Til in response to Dooyeweerd:

    
My contention over against this is, Dr. Dooyeweerd, that this confrontation must be brought in at the first step, and that if it is not brought in at the first step it cannot be brought in properly at the third step. But to say this amounts to saying that there is only one step or rather that there are no steps at all.
     I am of the opinion that your procedure corroborates my view on this point. I have pointed out that you did bring the Christian view of the created order at the level of the first step and the Christian view of man at the level of the second step, as you now bring in the Christian view of God in the third step. How could you escape doing so? You are convinced as a Christian that the Christian framework of truth as revealed by the triune God in Scripture is the transcendental presupposition of the possibility of intelligent predication in any field. If there is not to be a basic dualism between your religious convictions on this point and your process of rationalization you should proceed differently than you do in your
Critique. To avoid dualism you should not start from the structure of theoretical thought as such. There is no such thing. There is no autonomy of theoretical thought as such. There is a would-be-autonomous man, who thinks about his entire environment in terms of his thought as legislative and as determinative of the structure of the temporal world. With all due respect for your very great learning and penetration I cannot help but say that to me it is ambiguous to speak of theoretical thought as needing to be placed in relation to the temporal cosmic order or to naive experience as a primary datum. There is no naive experience as a primary datum any more than there is anything like theoretical thought as such. Every item that man meets in his temporal horizon is already interpreted by God. It is the interpretation of the triune Creator-Receemer God that every man meets in his every experience of anything. This is the "state of affairs" as it actually exists. The universe in which man lives is God's estate. The ownership of God is indelibly printed on every "thing" man meets. He cannot think of theoretic thought as such. I know not what else Calvin means by saying that at every turn man, the creature, faces his Creator. Man cannot have any "naive experience" in which he is not either a covenant-breaker or a covenant-keeper.
     Of course, I know, Dr. Dooyeweerd, that by theoretical thought, by the temporal world-order, and by naive experience you mean what these mean in the Christian framework. But in your transcendental method you insist not only that they
may but that they must be used without reference to the Christian framework. (pp108,109)
   
Not to weary you, but if you will allow me a further excerpt from Van Til's riposte, I must say my jaw dropped at the following bare-nuckle assault on Dooyeweerd's "supratemporal ego" teaching as nominalistic and reminiscent of Barthianism -

    
I fear, Dr. Dooyeweerd, that the view of man as a supratemporal sphere of occurence undercuts the entire Christian view as to the struggle between the civitas dei and the civitas terrena. There is no occurence of any sort in this contentless self, except dunamis be poured into it from a featureless God. This dunamis then filters down into the temporal world.
     It is on some such purely nominalist view that Karl Barth founded his idea of the sovereignty of God's election. Grace is sovereign; there need not be and there cannot be, on this view, any transition from wrath to grace accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ as the electing God. Election would not be sovereign over "history" if any such thing as the death and resurrection were needed for man's salvation.
     But then, correlative to Barth's nominalist view of the sovereignty of God's grace is his realist view of the universality of this grace. The recipients of God's grace need not in any sense have any cognition of what happened through the death or resurrection of Christ in history.
     In short, the realm of ordinary temporal occurence is not the sphere of the drama of creation, fall, and redemption. The
real occurence takes place in the sphere of the supra-temporal. The temporal is only a pointer toward this supra-temporal sphere of  occurence.
      Now I am not in the least bringing in this matter of modern dimensionalism and of Barth's sovereign-universal grace, Dr. Dooyeweerd, if I did not seriously fear that your sharpened transcendental method with its supra-temporal self as the central sphere of occurence really opens the door for an entrance into historic Reformed thinking for a form of the nominalist-realist dialecticism which is surrounding Christian believers at every turn.
(pp 121, 122)

(
Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, Edited by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974)

The
"Jerusalem and Athens" volume was published in 1974. The tenor of Van Til's words here is in marked contrast to that of ten or so years earlier in his major study of Barth ("Christianity and Barthianism"), in which he gladly endorses (and indeed leans on) Dooyeweerd, quoting freely from Dooyeweerd's "New Critique". (In anticipation of forthcoming discussion in our own essay regarding Dooyeweerd's approach to Biblical text, it is worth noting en passant both Dooyeweerd's citation of the Bible here and Van Til's employment of the terms "inscripturated" and "propositional. Also, for clarification, I have coloured direct quotes from Dooyeweerd purple):

   
"Let us listen first to Dooyeweerd as he seeks to have converse with the Barthians. In 1951 Dooyeweerd wrote an article on "The Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea and the 'Barthians'"("De Wysbegeerte der Wetsidee en de 'Barthianenen'" in Philosophia Reformata). The title of this article itself needs explanation. Dooyeweerd argues that God is the law-giver and man the law-receiver. Non-Christian philosophy does not recognize this fact. It is therefore to be spoken of as immanentistic philosophy. The failure to recognize the fact that God is man's law-giver springs from failure to recognize the significance of the fall of man -
 "By the fall of man, human thought (νοῡς), according to St. Paul's word, has become νοῡς τῆς σαρκὸς, the 'carnal mind' (Colos. 2:18), for it does not exist apart from its apostate religious root. And thought includes its logical function. (A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, p 100).

   A Christian philosophy, therefore, is known by the fact that through grace it owns the proper borderline between God and man.
   This grace is in and through Jesus Christ -

"To the ultimate transcendental question: What is the Ἀρχῇ (Arche) of the totality and the modal diversity of meaning of our cosmos with respect to the cosmonomic side and its correlate, the subject-side? It answers: the sovereign holy will of God the Creator, who has revealed Himself in Christ." (A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, p 101).

   Here then is a Christ-centered philosophy. It is also a philosophy that takes its religious presuppositions from the inscripturated Word. In being a Christological philosophy, it is anything but realist or nominalist...

(Christianity and Barthianism, p 174)

[The following passages are from Van Til's approving summary of Dooyeweerd's description of Barth's theology in the periodical Philosophia Reformata]: 


What is gained, asks Dooyeweerd, when Barthian theology rejects Greek metaphysics and then allows Sartre to have his full say?
[Philosophia Reformata p155]

... Instead of returning to the biblical view of creation, Barth declares his solidarity with Sartre's existential philosophy. In this philosophy, independent human thought is set over against the "wholly other" of the Word of God
[Philosophia Reformata p157].

   All this proves that Barthian theology is still deeply imbedded in the scholastic ground-motive... But again it is the late scholastic view of nominalism, not Thomism, that Barthian theology resembles. If we are to overcome scholasticism, we shall need to return to the idea of the priority of propositional Word-revelation. We shall need to hold that, even before the entrance of sin into the world, man was directed toward Word-revelation 
[Philosophia Reformata p158]...

   Dooyeweerd concludes his discussion with the Barthians by asking them to submit their thinking to the test of the revelation of God in Scripture. They will need to show that the radical view of creation, sin, and redemption, is not biblical
[Philosophia Reformata p161]. (Christianity and Barthianism, pp 177-179)

***
We turn now to the modern form of dialectical thought. In doing so we shall again depend to a considerable extent upon the analysis given of it by Dooyeweerd...
(Christianity and Barthianism p 241)

(Cornelius Van Til, "Christianity and Barthianism", P & R Publishing, 1962)

Again, a mere five years prior to the (1974) publication of
"Jerusalem and Athens", we have Van Til's appreciative endorsement of Dooyeweerd in "A Christian Theory of Knowledge" (first published in 1969). And perhaps significantly, the positive references remain in my 1977 edition (four years after "Jerusalem and Athens"):


"Professors D. H. Th. Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd of the Free University of Amsterdam have worked out a Christian system of philosophy. They stress the fact that man should by virtue of his creation by God stand self-consciously under the law of God. Then they point out that since the fall man seeks his reference point in the created universe rather than in the Creator of the universe. They speak of non-Christian systems of philosophy being immanentistic in character, which refuse to recognize the dependence of human thought upon divine thought. They indicate that on the basis of immanentistic philosophies there has been a false problematics. Immanentistic systems have absolutized one or another aspect of the created universe and have therewith been forced to do injustice to other equally important or more important aspects of the created universe. So for instance the Pythagoreans contended that all things are numbers. By thus taking the idea of the numerability of created things, which is the lowest and therefore the least informative aspect of reality as the whole of it, as the final principle of interpretation, they have done grave injustice to other and higher aspects of reality...
... It is too be regretted that no full use of this well-worked out system of Christian philosophy can be made in this work. It would carry us too far afield. But it will be greatly helpful to us, especially in the analysis of the history of non-Christian philosophy."

(Cornelius Van Til,
A Christian Theory of Knowledge, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1977, pp 50,51)

In light of the spectacular high-level head-butting witnessed in
"Jerusalem and Athens", one cannot help but wonder if, despite the "Low Countries" provenance of both these singular gentlemen, there may not have been a fair degree of mountain goat in both of them. As for their current followers it seems clear from their dealings with each other that many in both camps have inherited the gene. There are obviously issues of great moment being raised here. Yet I do still wonder if these men are truly at variance, or if they are as often as not stubbornly talking past each other. It is a longterm preoccupation of mine to explore this question to my own satisfaction, at which point I know I may well have to conclude that one man is right and the other wrong. I am in no great hurry, though. I do not wish to lose the companionship of either of them. In a sense, they are my parents. I am uncomfortable when they squabble. Perhaps in a paradox of my own, I continue to live with both of them however estranged they become.

Notwithstanding all of this, Cornelius Van Til's emphasis on the
"ontological trinity" taken at face value does seem very much in line with fellow Dutchman Herman Dooyeweerd's key insight that reality totally resists reduction to logicism, that the ontical utterly transcends the theoretical, and that for us as creatures a living relationship with our Creator is paramount. There comes to mind the euphoric breakthrough cry of Blaise Pascal, written on a (posthumously discovered) piece of paper sewn into his jacket:


« DIEU d'Abraham, DIEU d'Isaac, DIEU de Jacob »
non des philosophes et des savants...
Joie, joie, joie, pleurs de joie...

("God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob"
 not of the philosophers and scholars...
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy...')


Meanwhile, in a footnote to the 2003 edition of Van Til's
"Christian Apologetics", William Edgar states that "The full story of Van Til's relationship to the Amsterdam philosophy, and especially to Herman Dooyeweerd, has not yet been told".

(Cornelius Van Til,
"Christian Apologetics", Second Edition, Edited by William Edgar, P & R Publishing, 2003, Footnote p 57)



9. Herman Dooyeweerd (F/B) and Sphere Sovereignty

As expressed in the previous section, Zen's studied and sophisticated engagement with the paradoxes of existence have a compellingness about them. So wherein would a Calvinist find fault? Not, certainly, in the refusal to allow one polarity to eclipse the other. The Calvinist certainly agrees that singularity and diversity, universal and particular, are mutually irreducible realities. And in fact, the Calvinist framework of
'sphere sovereignty' developed by Abraham Kuyper and taken to a high degree of refinement in the thought of Herman Dooyeweerd (among others) views reality as consisting of a multiplicity of mutually irreducible law-spheres. Dooyeweerd, for example, sees fifteen (F/B) of these, namely, the quantative, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic (F/B), sensitive (F/B), analytical (F/B), formative (F/B), lingual, social, economic, aesthetic (F/B), juridical (F/B), ethical (F/B) and pistic (F/B) spheres. Dooyeweerd demonstrates how human thinking repeatedly errs by attempting to consolidate all of reality on the basis of one of the spheres taken as an absolute. Such consolidation is doomed from the outset because reality resists it.
As mentioned above (section 7), in
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" Robert M. Pirsig clearly perceives reality's refusal to be reduced to a mere segment of itself. Pirsig's influential book is essentially a valiant quest to heal the rift between classical rationalism and romantic irrationalism by an appeal to a higher reality ("Quality") which informs, and therefore unifies, both. What is engagingly "Zen" about his whole presentation is that he continually grounds his metaphysics with references to the mechanics of his motorcycle, on which he is touring part of America:"Quality is the Buddha. Quality is scientific reality. Quality is the goal of Art. It remains to work these concepts into a practical, down-to-earth context, and for this there is nothing more practical or down-to-earth than what I have been talking about all along - the repair of an old motorcycle." (Robert M. Pirsig, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values", Vintage 1999, p 276)In rereading Pirsig, I am struck with how reminiscent of Dooyeweerd's thought much of it is. Apart from the matter of "irreducibility" just alluded to, Pirsig also echos Dooyeweerd's emphasis on the crucial importance of what the latter calls "pre-theoretical" or "naive" engagement with reality. Pirsig uses the terms "nonintellectual" and "preintellectual":


"...at the cutting edge of time, before an object can be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he (ie "Phaedrus", the narrator's alter ego) called Quality... "The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. This preintellectual reality is what Phaedrus felt he had properly identified as Quality. Since all intellectually identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, Quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects" (Ibid p 247)


Pirsig later finds a correspondence between this "preintellectuality" of Phaedrus, and the views of the French thinker Jules Henri Poincaré:


Poincaré then hypothesized that this selection is made by what he called the "subliminal self", an entity that corresponds exactly with what Phaedrus called preintellectual awareness. The subliminal self, Poincaré said, looks at a large number of solutions to a problem, but only the interesting ones break into the domain of consciousness. Mathematical solutions are selected by the subliminal self on the basis of "mathematical beauty", of the harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. "This is a true esthetic feeling which all mathematicians know," Poincaré said, "but of which the profane are so ignorant as often to be tempted to smile." But it is this harmony, this beauty, that is at the center of it all. (Ibid pp267, 268)


Interestingly, in his "New Critique of Theoretical Thought", Herman Dooyeweerd welcomes this selfsame insight of Poincaré:


Intuition cannot be isolated from analysis. Conversely, analysis can never function without intuitive insight. This has been convincingly proved by Henri Poincaré, in his La Valeur de la Science, and in his Science et Hypothèse, to refute the idea of a "pure analysis" in the mathematical sciences. ("New Critique of Theoretical Thought", II 483)


So we are now glimpsing a fascinating confluence of ideas, centering on the role of "intuition", which Dooyeweerd sees as the "bottom layer" of logic. We will return to this key consideration later in Section 14 "Between Two Insanities".


If the suite of fifteen spheres previously listed are understood in some sense as an incremental hierarchy, it seems that an antipathy towards the theorizing which is a feature of the analytical (F/B) sphere may result in Zen's reserve regarding the "post-logical", or "normative" (F/B) modalities and its preferential focus on the earlier "natural" realms. The latter tendency involves a "pre-theoretical" mode of analysis which reminds us of Dooyeweerd's insistent endorsement of the validity of everyday experience (F/B), and brings us back also to Pirsig's discussion (above) of our apprehension of a tree. The Calvinist, it must be said, would only take qualified issue with the Zen antipathy towards abstract metaphysics. As already mentioned, Cornelius Van Til in fact insists that the Calvinist should think 'concretely' rather than 'abstractly', which Zen echos (though the definition of common terms would be very different in the two camps). Again, let us bear in mind that the key to what Van Til means is that God is not an abstract speculation, not a "possibility", not a "probability". He is. ("I AM WHO I AM").

With reference to the normative modalities, it is not that they are not dealt with at all in Zen, but that they seem more likely to be dealt with obliquely as analogies ("
anticipations" in Dooyeweerd's terminology) of the earlier "natural" modalities. In other words, Zen will talk about stones and water and bamboo and clouds to explain something social, economic, aesthetic etc, rather than use abstract critical/scientific vocabulary. I say "talk" about stones, but then I recall of course how we have already noted that Zen's complex engagement with the normative lingual modality means words tend to be used sparingly. But insofar as they are used, they typically, intriguingly for the Christian, take the form of parables - stories about the 'actual' world, rather than abstract, or "metaphysical" registers. (We can compare Christ's parable-approach, and eg, His conversation with Nicodemus "I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I talk of heavenly things?" John 3:12. We also note again the "concrete" register of Ecclesiastes - "A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones..."). Thus in Zen, for instance, the aesthetic modality perhaps features as natural harmony and equilibrium (rock and water, seasons, etc). The economic modality in the sparing, restrained ("frugal") nature of Zen communication and art. As for the acceptance of paradox in the analytical (F/B) modality ("Not one, not two, not both, not neither") this might be seen to at least comport with harmony and balance (of opposites). However, when it comes to the ethical (F/B) modality, acceptance of opposites becomes extremely alarming:


"Good is not different from bad. Bad is good; good is bad. They are two sides of the one coin."
Shunryu Suzuki "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" (quoted by Grigg)


"In the landscape of Spring, there is neither better nor worse." (quoted by Grigg)


As to the ethical modality, it is not at all clear to me yet on what Zen bases its ethics - its moral imperatives. No doubt wider reading on my part is required, but my misgivings are not allayed by what Alan Watts, for example, has to say in his book "The Spirit of Zen"


"After all this the Western student will naturally be wondering where ordinary morality comes into Zen. Every religion has had its moral code, and the Buddha summed up his teaching in the words:

Cease to do evil; Learn to do well; Cleanse your own heart - This is the way of the Buddhas.
It will be asked if there is not a grave danger in the Zen practice of accepting all things, both good and evil, as manifestations of the Buddha-nature, for on such grounds it might be possible to justify any form of action. Indeed this is a difficulty with which the Zen masters have had to reckon; immature disciples would frequently make the all-inclusiveness of Zen an excuse for pure libertinism, and it is for this reason that the members of Zen communities observe a rigid discipline. The solution to the difficulty is that no-one should undertake the practice of Zen without first having adapted himself to a thorough moral discipline."(Alan W. Watts, The Spirit of Zen, Mandala, 1958, p 56)

There is an entirely unsatisfactory circularity in Watts' contribution here. We are not told what the basis of any morality is. Simply that self-discipline is needed. Why? The back cover of my 1958 copy of this book asserts that it
"is considered by modern Zen masters to be his finest book on the subject". But we should bear in mind, I suppose, that it was first published in 1936 when he was just 21. It was largely reflective of his reading of Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), quoted above. Of course, matters are further complicated by the question of the ultimate compatibility of Zen and Buddhism.

In
Zen: A Trinitarian Critique (from which we have already quoted), Rev. Ralph Allan Smith reserves his most trenchant condemnation of Zen in regard to its ethics, and he uses Suzuki's writings to illustrate moral prevarication in Zen:


It is remarkable that living through a century that is characterized by its political theories and atrocities, Suzuki has so little to say on the subject. What he does say, however, is important:

Zen has no special doctrine or philosophy, no set of concepts or intellectual formulas...It is, therefore, extremely flexible in adapting itself to almost any philosophy and moral doctrine as long as its intuitive teaching is not interfered with. It may be found wedded to anarchism or fascism, communism or democracy, atheism or idealism, or any political or economic dogmatism.
[Daisetz T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971 reprint; 1959), p. 63]

[T]he fact remains that when confronted with concrete historical particularity Zen is unable to handle problems of paramount importance such as communism and fascism, unable to give clear ethical guidance in an issue as uncomplicated as dueling, and unable to direct the Japanese nation in political wisdom. This is what we would expect if Zen insight is pantheistic and lacking in real moral content. In spite of Suzuki's denial that Zen is pantheistic, his own example is that of a man who cannot handle historical particularity. He has gained satori...And yet, Suzuki cannot find the wisdom to condemn what deserves to be condemned, or to show the evil of what is patently vicious.

It is only with serious consideration of ethical issues -- the place where philosophy confronts historical particularity --that Zen is clearly exposed as pretense. For at this point in history, "enlightenment" is not the word we use to describe philosophies that endorse fascism and communism.
(Zen: A Trinitarian Critique by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith)


The pistic (F/B) modality is the sphere of faith. It is here that humans have their convictions of certainty. All preceding modalities ought to be directed in worshipful obedience to the Creator via this sphere. The 'unbeliever' has as much faith as anyone else, except that his or her faith is misdirected and is invested in an absolutized modality (ie in an idol), rather in the transcendent Creator. Somehow, again I am not sure why, this apostate turning from the Creator leads the Zenist to believe in "Nothingness". Perhaps "nothingness" is what the "self" experiences when it attempts radically and fundamentally to replace the Creator as the focus of existence. Here again there is an echo of Dooyeweerd. Without pausing at the moment to try to unpack all that to which he is alluding (a daunting task!), we can at least sense the relevance when he writes:


"Philosophic thought as such derives its actuality from the ego. The latter restlessly seeks its origin in order to understand its own meaning, and in its own meaning the meaning of the entire cosmos!...
Philosophic thought pre-supposes an Archimedean point for the thinker, from which our ego in the philosophical activity of thought can direct its view of totality over the modal diversity of meaning...
The Archimedean point...may not be divorced from the concentric law of the ego's existence. Without this law the subject drops away into chaos, or rather into nothingness." (Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Prolegomena, pp 11,12)


 Sartre peered into a similar abyss - "le néant". Of course we must remember that the mindset of Zen would understand this "nothingness" as being simultaneously (and paradoxically) "everything"! "Nothingness" in the Zen mind is radically different from what the term denotes in a scientistic materialist mind. Take, for example, the following sentences from the internal martial arts' genius Peter Ralston's insightful (and demanding) book "Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power"(North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1999), and bear in mind that the burden of the book is to cultivate a moment-by-moment awareness of the physical here and now -


"The fundamental principle that seems to emerge in our consideration here is Nothing. Not a negative, not a removal, not an absence, nor an exclusion of anything; simply and absolutely Nothing, inclusive of all that is and of the very heart of Being. Consider it." (p 121)

In a 1978 interview included as foreword to the above book, Ralston describes an elightenment experience he had while on an intensive meditation course:


"Suddenly I was aware I was Nothing. Absolutely no thing. I directly experienced my true nature, not as thingness in any way, shape or form. The possibility that I wasn't anything had not existed for me...In the enlightenment I was just...no thing, no where, no substance whatsoever." (p xii)

It is perhaps of relevance here to note that Dooyeweerd utterly opposes the notion of "substance" as a dualism we have inherited from Plato and Aristotle, via Aquinus. Ralston goes on to describe a second similar experience:


"And then, quite to my surprise, I had an experience of what Zen people call the Void. That Absolute Existence does not exist. There was no distance, no time, no space...nothing" (p xiv)

The question arises in my mind as to whether this kind of experience may tie in with Dooyeweerd's notion of our "supratemporal self" over which Van Til took him to task (see quote in previous section). The immediate aftermath of this experience of Ralston is intriguing:


"I recognize now that I didn't have a context in which to hold that experience. I had experienced the Absolute Nature of existence, yet when I was back in 'life', I just noticed that everybody lied. That everything said and everything done was a lie. It was not the Truth. And it started to become intolerable. Then I noticed that eveything that I said was a lie. That I wasn't able to speak the Truth. I started to go crazy, so I isolated myself for two weeks and wouldn't speak. I didn't know what to do with it. I think it is invaluable to have a context in which to hold such an enlightenment experience." (p xiv)

It is obviously paramount that we try to get behind the terminology - the same word can clearly denote near opposites to different people. To take another obvious example, talk in Zen of "mindlessness" or "no-mind" is alarming to Western thinking in general, forget Western
Christian thinking. Yet this seems to be due, in some degree at least, to terminology. Westerners are used to "mindless" as a cliché term heard in our news, eg "mindless violence". What is meant by the latter is violence which is unjustified, disproportionate, irrational, even insane. But as anyone half-aquainted with "internal" martial arts would readily comprehend, the term "mindless" could fairly be applied in marked contrast to a mode of fighting which is utterly restrained, and which even carefully avoids inflicting damage. A key saying of the Japanese martial art aikido, for instance, is "protect your opponent". If ever there is developed such a thing as a Christian martial art (difficult to imagine, I admit!), let's hope that by then aikido's copyright on that remarkable slogan will have expired! Intriguingly, compare the following from Herman Dooyeweerd: "In a serious dialogue we must faithfully support one another. Perhaps some are not aware of their deepest motives in life; if so, then we must bring these motives out into the open. We, in turn, must be willing to learn from our opponents, since we are responsible both for ourselves and for them." (Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Thought: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options, Paideia Press, 2012, p 15)

Martial arts was where Peter Ralston started. He was no slouch - in 1978 (the year of the above-quoted interview) he became the first non-Asian ever to win the World Championship full-contact martial arts tournament held in the Republic of China. Ralston went on to investigate further the ontological insights which had informed his own prowess. Without over-affirming these matters, I would merely share with you my own impression of further correspondences (unlikely as this might seem) between Ralston's and Dooyeweerd's explanations. I would draw attention, for example, to the constructive emphasis the Zen-influenced Peter Ralston puts on the ontic. Ralston's recurrent references to human actuality as "event" rather than as materialist or scholastic "substance" is reminiscent of Dooyeweerd. In a comment relevant also to our "one and many" consideration, Ralston says -


This entire book could be said to deal with the integrity of being as a multidimensional and many-faceted event, and at the same time as a simple and singular one.(Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power, by Peter Ralston, North Atlantic Books, Berkely, California, 1989, 1999)

Dooyeweerd calls the supratemporal self our "centre", and identifies it with references to the "heart" in Scripture, eg
"Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23) He also views the heart as being properly directed to God as our "Origin", or "Source". Ralston calls his own approach "Cheng Hsin" (誠心 chéngxīn) and introduces it as follows:


     "Let's begin with the name: Cheng can be defined as true, genuine, real, right, correct, or exact. Hsin is often defined as being, heart, mind, will, sense, center, origin, or source. These terms have been translated in many ways. Taoist and Zen traditions use the word hsin to refer to 'ones true nature'.
      It is the seat of Being, the primary nature and reality of consciousness and life, the origin of self.
   
Hsin implies a source and union between being alive and being a body - between being a conscious entity and an objective form. (p 1)

Dooyeweerd refers to our body as our "mantel of functions" within time. Ralston goes on:

   
"In order to further our investigation of the principle that I refer to as Cheng Hsin and as springing from Cheng Hsin, I have made some distinctions within that which appears as being. The first distinction is that being appears first and foremost as some 'thing' that is; in our case, a body-being. What appears to be true about being a body is that bodily existence is formed out of the principle or principles in which Being exists as a thing. The simple object of a body, however, doesn't stand alone in this event of being; it is lived as a function of interaction." (p 3)

Dooyeweerd views his suite of 15 aspects as "modes of time" within which all creation functions and is structured, and alignment with which leads to optimum functioning (see
Shalom hypothesis). There seem to me to be echos of this also in Ralston. He talks of five principles, which he lists as 1. Being calm; 2. Relaxing; 3. Centering; 4. Grounding; 5. Being whole and total. He then goes on to say:


     "Actually, these words do not really indicate what the principles are; it is more accurate to say that they refer to what arises out of being aligned with the principles. When the event of 'being' occurs in alignment with a principle that founds the condition in which being exists, the state 'in' which being abides shifts to its most fundamental or natural position, which is also its most workable position. This implies that it is possible to fall out of alignment with the very principles that found the event which is falling out of alignment. Yet it also indicates that the principles are in effect whether we are in alignment with them or not.
    As an example of this, consider a hose. The hose has a particular design and function. Certain principles determine its design, and yet the hose can be twisted such that it does not fulfill its function. In this case we cannot say that the principles have changed at all, yet the state of the hose is quite different from when it is allowed to function in the way that it was designed to function. Through activities such as negation, confusion, resistance, abstraction, ignorance, suppression, lying, and the like, it is possible for the principles that found any event or being to be in discord. In other words, it is not allowed to function or 'be' simply as it was designed to be. Any activity will then arise from an aberration of the principle and not from the principle in its pure and most powerful form."
(Peter Ralston,"Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power", North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1999, p 4)

I have learned a lot from reading Ralston. Things like relaxing my face. Relaxing my shoulders. Aligning my skeletal frame with gravity. Poise, in other words. The soothing feeling of moving awareness from my pressured forehead to, say, my left elbow. To my right knee. To my feet. To the ground beneath my feet. (I rewatched
"The Magnificent Seven" a while back there, and suddenly I became mesmerised by the grace of Yul Brynner's walk. Like a ballet dancer. Myself, in contrast, habitually hunched forward as if my body was two steps behind my head and no hope of catching up. My shoulders keeping my ears warm). And how to use my muscles properly. Not in stressed isolation but in relaxed bodily unity. As my father once said to my brother (we were young Canadians) "Let the saw do the work, son". That's Ralston. And the sense of 3-dimensional space around me. This is entirely in keeping with the way my consciousness gradually altered after focusing on Christ in my teens, trees turning from flat mist into wondrous 360 degree walkround solidity. I am almost three score years now, and the 3-D actuality of trees and rocks and animals and raindrops is still miraculous to me whenever I glimpse it afresh. It is pure physical hallelujah. But I lose the edge so easily. The head takes over. The inner head. The dream factory. That workplace with the closed venetian blinds. No windows. Only monitors. Filtering, flickering, flat monitors. The static build-up. Ungrounded, film-processed, digitalised reality. Somebody told Ralston how she realized that prior to training with him she had become like "a head on a stick". Someone else had felt like "a head on wheels". I recognize the symptoms.

What has this to do with Calvinism? A lot. The escape from the mental jailhouse of Hellenistic and Thomistic dualism has been a necessary Calvinist prority, but the struggle continues. Many of us have simply tunnelled into adjacent cells. For freedom Christ has set us free. So where is Christ? In your thought? In your heart? That's just your identikit photofit impression of Christ. Where is Christ in actuality? How can I encounter Him? I want to, need to, reach out and touch the Rock.
("And that Rock was Christ"). And this is why I find Dooyeweerd so helpful. Endeavouring as he does to chart the contours of this elusive frontier between theory and reality, and to lead us, poor sandblind, mind-locked refugees, back into the verdant, sparkling, magnificence of what is actual. "For in Him we live, and move, and have our being".
Peter Ralston attempts to leave the baggage of theorization on the sidewalk, while he proceeds to road-test the nature of physicality - actuality - and give feedback. An existential empiricist? An ontological mechanic, perhaps? I do go a long way with him (though I don't know how far he would travel with me. In his terms, there is clearly "baggage" I won't let go of. The Bible, for instance. Which brings us round briefly to a key Dooyeweerdian/Van Tillian issue. When is the Word of God supra-theoretical, and when is it theoretical? When is it actuality -
"self-authenticating", "self-attesting"  - and when is it neural abstraction? When ontic, when hermeneutic? When engine, when ingenuity? When horsepower - hippo-dunamis? - when impedimenta? Or to coin an awkward English term, at what point do we begin to "be-baggage" the Word of God?) I once gave a lift to my wife's aunt. She got the ferry from the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides to the Scottish mainland port of Ullapool. I then took her by car to Inverness. As she was getting out on our arrival she announced that I drove like a "madman". I thought I was driving sensibly enough, though I did notice that she had a firm grip on the door handle for much of the jouney. I wonder how far readers will get with Ralston's driving here before their own knuckles whiten. It might tell them quite a bit about themselves and the nature of their worldview. If they are Christians, they should bear in mind that Christ is not a "belief system" under threat, but the "I am Who I am", the Creator and Redeemer of our bodies and of all physical reality. Regarding "neutrality", there is no such thing - as Van Til felt compelled to remind Dooyeweerd, and as Dooyeweerd duly denied exhibiting. Ralston himself of course cannot escape the Catch-22 that strictly-speaking "neutral" still remains a "belief-system", "nonmoral" remains a moral position, etc. But you can see where, by common grace, he is at. He is championing the ontic over the epistemological. Personally, I feel like the ride: 


"One thing that bothers me is the pretentiousness that attaches itself to much of the martial arts and to spiritual practices. While it is not my intention to validate any belief system, I fear that perhaps too much of my writing lends itself to be interpreted in this way... I don't want people to believe what I say - I want them to experience it. I support people in challenging beliefs, not attaching themselves to them.
    Cheng Hsin is nonmoral, nonpolitical, and nonreligious. It is not about proselytising a belief system, adhering to dogma, or following a set of rituals. It is not about pushing forward an opinion, defending against differing ideas, or engaging in idle speculations. The intent of this work is not to embrace a new belief system, but rather to openly and honestly question the nature of our event - any aspect of being alive. This often means challenging our existing beliefs.
    It seems strange that we should live so abstracted from what is most near, solid, and present - the nature of our own event. This being the case, however, we tend to rely on hearsay, fantasy, and beliefs regarding what is true about our own beings as well as what is unknown about reality. For example, this is true of our relationship with our own bodies. In some respects, such as serious health matters, the aquisition of athletic skills, or the physiological microworld, advice from others may be useful. But why must we rely on hearsay or systems of belief or fantasy - which are, after all, most of what constitutes any system of "knowledge" - to tell us what's true about being in and functioning with our own bodies?
    I want to encourage people to think for themselves, to take on these considerations with fresh perspectives. I suggest we repeatedly awaken a bona fide experience of not knowing from which to investigate openly and honestly what this or any matter is all about. Not knowing is a legitimate position from which to come; what's more, it is the truth. It is a fundamentally constant condition in which we find ourselves. To sink deeply into not knowing, to genuinely allow ourselves to experience that we do not know, is a very authentic and powerful place to be. It moves us into the truth of this moment, allows questioning to arise, and frees us from the dogma and beliefs that so plague our interpretations of everything.
(Peter Ralston,"Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power", North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1999, pp 123, 124)

(See, also Peter Ralston on
YouTube, e.g. regarding "Ontology")

Ralston aims here to nudge us out of secondhand
conceptual towards firsthand actual. No Christian should be afraid of that place. It is where the burning bush resides. Where speaks the "I am Who I am". If any of us - Peter Ralston also - truly arrives at that most sacred place, we will find ourselves bowing, shedding our sandals. As martial artists are wont, before standing on the mat of ontic encounter. And if this comes across as "dogma" on my part, then one might well respond that it is no more so than is the assertion of "neutrality" vis-à-vis our Creator. The apostle Paul tells us in effect that actuality is not "out there" as self-existent brute "stuff". Rather it is exhaustively suffused with divine presence and revelation. God, says Paul, is permanently and ubiquitously "in our face" (whether we like it or not):"What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:19,20)

This verse of Scripture is key to Van Til's view, as Jacob Gabriel Hale maintains in his essay from which we have already quoted:
According to Van Til, the natural world does not only reveal things about God, but rather reveals God. The importance of this notion cannot be overstated. According to Van Til, “All created reality is revelatory of the nature and will of God.” [Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p  33] For Van Til, this is far from saying that creation reveals truth about God or knowledge about God. Our knowledge of God is not based upon natural theology but rather natural revelation. According to Van Til, the world around us in infused with the personality of God. He writes, “Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God.”[Cornelius Van Til, Survey of Christian Epistemology Vol. II (New Jersey: P&R Press, 1977, p.78)] Ontologically speaking, Van Til asserts that the natural world is not simply material, static and mute of meaning, but rather all things embody a certain active God-revealing quality. Therefore, the metaphysical make-up of the world is inherently revelatory, always speaking, always revealing meaning. Van Til does much to elaborate on this point through his understanding of Romans 1:18-20. ("Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism: An Essay" by Jacob Gabriel Hale)

It is interesting to bear both Zen and Dooyeweerd in mind as Hale continues:


According to Van Til, this knowledge of God that is revealed in all things is non-inferential and non-discursive. That is to say, that the knowledge of God is not derived or inferred from nature, but rather is immediately apprehended.

This is a unique feature of Van Til’s epistemology, which distances him from what is termed natural theology. According to Van Til, the knowledge of God is not inferred, induced, deduced, or derived from any sort of evidence, fact or observation. Rather, the knowledge of God is immediately apprehended at the moment of consciousness. In Husserlean terms, the knowledge of God is immediately “present”, and “given.” Unlike others, who call themselves classical apologists, Van Til maintains that our knowledge of God does not come from an argument from facts and evidences. Based on Romans 1 this cannot be the case because, as Bahnsen points out, there are some who do not have the cognitive abilities to reason in this manner [Greg Bahnsen,
VanTil’s Apologetic (New Jersey: P&R Press, 1999) p.181]. Yet, according to Paul, they still know God. Because the knowledge of God is immediately present to us through that which is made (both nature and self), Paul can say with confidence that in knowing God’s acts (both nature and self) we truly “know him.” Concerning Van Til’s point on this, Bahnsen writes,

Careful reading shows that Romans 1-2 does not teach men can develop a “natural theology" from the uninterpreted raw data of the natural realm, if they will rationally reflect upon it and formulate appropriate chains of argument, leading to the conclusion that God very probably exists. Rather, Van Til maintained that Romans 1 teaches a “natural revelation’ whereby the created order is a medium of constant, inescapable, clear, pre-interpreted information about God, with the effect that all men, at the outset of their reasoning, possess an actual knowledge of God and his character. [
Van Til’s Apologetic, p.185]

So, Van Til does not ground knowledge in any abstract principle but rather in God who is revealed to all men in an immediate, non-inferential manner.


(
"Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism: An Essay" by Jacob Gabriel Hale)

However, the Bible does provide verbalised revelation beyond what is given in nature. Consider the following two passages on a parallel theme. The first is an extract from early Taoist writing which with wonderfully engaging humility (to the point of provoking a smile) evidences a "knowing" which is in the process of emerging from "not knowing". It is as fun as watching an egg hatch: 


"Now, I am going to tell you something. I don't know what heading it comes under, and whether or not it is relevant here, but it must be relevant at some point. It is not anything new, but I would like to say it.
    There is a beginning. There is no beginning of that beginning. There is no beginning of that no beginning of beginning. There is something. There is nothing. There is something before the beginning of something and nothing, and something before that. Suddenly there is something and nothing. But between something and nothing, I still don't really know which is something and which is nothing. Now, I've just said something, but I don't really know whether I've said anything or not."
(Translated by Gia-feng and Jane English, from Chuang Tzu: Inner Chapters, New York: Vintage Books, 1974, p 35. Quoted by Ray Grigg, The Tao of Zen, Charles E. Tuttle Co., Inc, 1994, p23)

What kind of bird is struggling to crack through this common grace egg? A chicken? It turns out to be an eagle. Some three centuries later we catch sight of it in awesome flight, spiralling upwards into the azure, till the sun hurts our eyes: 

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it."
(John 1:1-5 NKJV)

So tell me. Where then does the ontic end, and dogma begin? I'm with the eagle.

Betty Edwards in her book "
Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" makes use of a popular model of the brain in which the two hemispheres apparently tend to specialize, the left (usually) on the verbal, analytical, symbolic, abstract, temporal, logical, linear, and the right on the nonverbal, synthetic, concrete, analogic, nontemporal, spatial, holistic, intuitive. (Now that latter list is remarkably "Zenish" is it not? Neither, it seems to me, is it far removed from the Eastern understanding of the term "mindlessness"). It is recognized that this left-right model is an over-generalization. In cases of brain trauma, healthy areas can apparently sometimes take over the specializations of damaged areas. For our purposes here, though, the precise anatomy is not the point. What is relevant is the discussion of two contrasting ways our brain, or mind, can engage with reality. Betty Edwards points out the fact, confirmed by any art teacher, that it is difficult to draw and talk at the same time. When an artist is really "into" a drawing he or she has entered a wordless timeless zone. Is this a kind of "Zen zone"? Is Zen at its most innocuous simply a cultural bias towards the (so-called) right-hemisphere "intuitive" mode of apprehension? Put in those terms the "no-mind" (non-verbal mind?) parlance is far less threatening and indeed already well within Western experience (eg in the arts), although as Betty Edwards points out, Western culture and education have been overwhelmingly "left-hemisphere".  The aesthetic does seem to me to play a significant role in Zen. The aesthetic (by and large) seeks holistic harmony, generally involves concrete encounter, and is irreducible to the "logical", as is well expressed by the following quote from the Russian Constructivist sculptor Naum Gabo:


It is impossible to comprehend the content of an absolute shape, absolute line, or form, or color, by reasoning; they can only be known by our experience of them, and their influence on our psyche is unique - it can break or mould it. Shapes, lines, forms, can exalt or depress, elate or cause despair; they can bring order or confusion into the state of our minds; they are able to harmonize our consciousness or disturb it; they possess a constructive power or a destructive danger. In short, lines, shapes, forms, colors have all the properties of a real force with a positive and negative direction.
(
Naum Gabo, "Of Divers Arts", Princeton University Press, 1962)


So the paradox is that the wayfarer in "Zenland" notices that the native inhabitants focus (in an intuitive, aesthetic manner) on concrete particulars - and on nothingness. Is it that in tending to make an absolute of the particular, the counter-absolute of Universal Oneness suddenly demands attention (and vice-versa)? The oak-panel in the cosmic wall alarmingly swivels in a Zen-blink to replace the Buddha idol (absolute universal undifferentiation) with the anti-Buddha idol (absolute brute particularism)... As noted above, Cornelius Van Til points out that resolution of this philosophical "One v Many" enigma is only possible in the Person of the Triune God, in Whom singularity and plurality are equally ultimate and equally personal. To quote again from his book "Common Grace and the Gospel" (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1972) -


    "The ontological Trinity will be our interpretative concept everywhere. God is our concrete universal; in Him thought and being are coterminous, In Him the problem of knowledge is solved.     If we begin thus with the ontological Trinity as our concrete universal, we frankly differ from every school of philosophy and from every school of science not merely in our conclusions, but in our starting-point and in our method as well. For us the facts are what they are, and the universals are what they are, because of their common dependence on the ontological Trinity. Thus, as earlier discussed, the facts are correlative to the universals. Because of this correlativity, there is genuine progress in history; because of it the Moment has significance." (p 64)"The Moment has significance". How Zen is that!



10. Back to Nature

The Zen engagement with nature is very beguiling, particularly as you know, for artists. It is curious that, for all the rich allusion to nature in Scripture, the evangelical tradition does not really mediate nature to us very much, in word or paint. One exception which comes to mind is the old hymn "The earth with its store of wonders untold, Almighty thy power hath founded of old...Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite? it breathes in the air, it shines in the light...it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain, and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain." That hymn is almost phenomenally good! Then one thinks of the more recent "The sky above is deeper blue, the earth beneath is richer green, something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen." While OK as far as it goes, this is sliding into subjectivity and sentimentality in comparison with the Reformed affirmation of objectivity in the earlier quote. Christ says "Consider the ravens. Consider the lilies." He says this in the same breath as he tells us to forget (in some sense) about tomorrow. In effect he is offering us a mental therapy. An emotional balm. - Focus on Nature. - Focus on Now.

Was it Common Grace which taught that insight to Li Bai ? -


The birds have vanished into the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Or another rendering -
Alone Looking at the Mountain
All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other -
Only the mountain and I.

By Li Bai (Li Po, 701-762)

Or what of Wang Wei ? -


GREEN CREEK
To get right down to Yellow Flower River
I often follow the waters of Green Creek.
They wind around the mountains endlessly -
A path straight there would run a few score miles.

There are sounds of water crashing on tumbled stones;
Scenes of silence deep within the pines.
Water-chestnut and water-fringe float on the ripples;
Still limpid waters mirror the reeds.

My mind is unencumbered, at its ease now,
Clear and tranquil, as the river is.
Come, stay a while, rest upon this stone -
Cast out a fishing line, and let things be.


By Wang Wei (701-761)
(translation by Peter Harris)


The pure descriptiveness of such poetry, with its lightness of touch and minimal metaphor can be readily accessed and appreciated by any of us. Neither erudite vocabulary nor recondite allusion fend us off. There is a simplicity of language and subject which recalls the gospel parables - though by definition, the parables work as extended metaphors or allegories. This is not at all to suggest that metaphor is an essential component of poetry, any more than it is of a painting. There is a similar life-oxygenating pleasure to such poetry as that given by beholding an exeptional natural view. One stops for a few moments on one's journey to survey such beauty, instinctively sensing the healingness of it. Paul of course tells us that "The invisible attributes of God, namely his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made, so that they (who reject God) are without excuse" (Romans 1).

Nature is therapeutic (by and large, though in this fallen cosmos, nature can also be, of course, gruesome). It is therapeutic surely because, since we are made in the image of God, and since the attributes of God are clearly perceived in nature, nature reflects and confirms our identity. It is a mirror of healing. We discover ourselves there. Hence the hillwalking and the re-creational desire for the calming, entrancing landscape and seascape.
Christ draws his listeners' attention to the lilies: "I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." But the Son of Man, the True Man, the Last Adam, is like one of these, and more. - "A greater than Solomon is here". Was this in the mind of Christ - That it is of Himself that the ravens and the lilies speak? That He is the True Flower, True Root and True Tree. True Raven. True Dove. True Ark. True Lamb. Lion. Door. Vine. Wine. Bread. Light. Consuming Fire. Water. Corner-stone. Rock ("that Rock which followed them was Christ" 1 Cor 10:4).

True Way. Interestingly, the word "Tao" or "Dao" means "Way". Thus in John 14:6, Christ says in effect "I am the Tao":

Pinyin: ye1su1 shuo1, wo3 jiu4 shi4 dao4lu4
Chinese:

(Alternatively view: Trad Simp.)

The burden of the Calvinist sphere-sovereignty analysis of reality is that each sphere (or modality or aspect) is irreducible to any of the others. Each is 'sovereign' in that specific sense, but not in an ultimate sense. Ultimately each modality derives its meaning from Christ the Root. Pure, absolute sovereignty belongs to Christ (Matt 28:18), and each of Dooyeweerd's fifteen modalities are fulfilled in Him. He is the integration point of all things.
"All things are held together by His word of power" (Heb 1:3). "For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things" (Rom 11:36).

Solomon (author of Ecclesiastes?) exhibited his wisdom by referring to Nature (again, note the fact that Zen wisdom almost always refers to nature). Solomon's "consideration" of ravens, lilies etc was obviously "considerable" -
He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:32-34)

It is of major significance, I believe, that when God finally speaks to Job, the only answer He gives to Job's metaphysical quandary/quagmire occasioned by the mystery of suffering is to ask Job (at some length!) if perchance he has noticed Nature -


Job 39
1 "Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
2 Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.

5 "Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied his ropes?
6 I gave him the wasteland as his home,
the salt flats as his habitat.
7 He laughs at the commotion in the town;
he does not hear a driver's shout.
8 He ranges the hills for his pasture
and searches for any green thing.

9 "Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
Will he stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold him to the furrow with a harness?
Will he till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on him for his great strength?
Will you leave your heavy work to him?
12 Can you trust him to bring in your grain
and gather it to your threshing floor?

13 "The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

19 "Do you give the horse his strength
or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make him leap like a locust,
striking terror with his proud snorting?
21 He paws fiercely, rejoicing in his strength,
and charges into the fray.
22 He laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
he does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against his side,
along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement he eats up the ground;
he cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet he snorts, 'Aha!'
He catches the scent of battle from afar,
the shout of commanders and the battle cry.

26 "Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread his wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build his nest on high?
28 He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is his stronghold.
29 From there he seeks out his food;
his eyes detect it from afar.
30 His young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there is he."
(NIV)


There is a curious resonance between that last verse and something Christ mentions in reference to His return in power as Creation's King - Matt 24:28 and Luke 17:37 - by which martial action (as opposed to verbal explanation) the perplexed grief of Job and of all of us will have its actual (rather than conceptual) answer. Meanwhile Job's response to all this in-your-face focus on nature is, interestingly, silence. "Interestingly" because word-inadequate silence precipitated by the observation of nature are keynotes of Zen. Though, despite having eyes to see, Zen does not see the Hand Job sees. And despite having ears to hear, Zen does not hear the Voice Job hears -


1 The LORD said to Job:
2 "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
3 Then Job answered the LORD :
4 "I am unworthy - how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer-
twice, but I will say no more."
(Job 40)


The multiple calamities which befell Job were ushered in by a whirlwind which devastated the house belonging to one of his sons while the siblings were present for a birthday celebration. So, Job's woes began with a whirlwind, and, poignantly, pivotally, it is out of a whirlwind that God now answers him. There is surely a profundity in this fact alone. There it is staring Job in the face - the implication that the first whirlwind was most certainly as much under God's control as this latter whirlwind. Though God's verbal reponse to Job lasts the whole of Chapters 38 and 39, all but 5 verses of Chapter 40, and then again all of Chapter 41, Job actually in one sense is told no more than that which was wordlessly self-evident to him by what he was now holistically experiencing - God was speaking to him out of what must have become in Job's mind the archetypal symbol of his destruction. God was demonstrating sovereignty over the forces of mayhem. In His long monologue to Job, God simply and relentlessly points to example after example of His sovereignty over Nature. Though in a curious sense Job is left none the wiser about the "whys" of his sufferings and his losses, we must take it that God was saying to Job that, for the moment, here was all the "theology"(or "ontology") he needed. We might tentatively venture to observe that God's answer to Job is "zenlike" insofar as it eschews metaphysical "explanation" but rather points to concrete Nature. And Job (as the enlightened disciple) realizes that the Truth is beyond verbal articulation. For Job, of course, Nature is suffused with the awesome sovereignty of the Creator. He has just been reminded of this. And though the mystery of the suffering remains, Job has, in one sense, all the answer he needs. For Zen on the other hand, Nature is suffused with an awesome emptiness:



Trailing on the wind,
The smoke from Mount Fuji
Melts into the sky.
So too my thoughts -
Unknown their resting place.


(By Saigyo, 1118-90)
(Translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite)
(
Zen Poems, Ed. Peter Harris, Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, 1999)

11. Early Gaelic Nature-Poetry
In passing, and in light of the foregoing section, we might note the oft observed fact that the poetic rapport with nature evidenced by early Gaelic monks (Biblically-informed?) is very reminiscent of that of Zen monks (informed by common grace?). Seamus Heaney, for example, writes that:

"In its precision and suggestiveness, this art has been compared with the art of the Japanese haiku, and the comparison is a good one. Basho's frog plopping into its pool in seventeenth century Japan makes no more durable or exact music than Belfast's blackbird clearing its throat over the lough almost a thousand years earlier. Equally memorable, compact and concrete are the lines beginning 'Scél lem duíb', lines that have all the brightness and hardness of a raindrop winking on a thorn. The poem shows us how accurately Flann O' Brien characterized early Irish verse-craft when he spoke of its 'steel-pen exactness'"(Seamus Heaney,
"The God in the Tree", from "The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry", Edited by Seán Mac Réamoinn, Allen Lane Penguin books 1982)


There are many translations of Basho's famous frog poem. Allen Ginsberg gives us:


The old pond
A frog jumped in,
Kerplunk!

While James Kirkup cuts to the chase:

pond
     frog
          plop!

In his commentary on Basho's original haiku, Robert Aitken says -

With the frog as our clue, we guess that it is twilight in late spring. This setting of time and place needs to be established, but there is more. “Old” is a cue word of another sort. For a poet such as Bashô, an evening beside a mossy pond evoked the ancient. Bashô presents his own mind as this timeless, endless pond, serene and potent — a condition familiar to mature Zen students.
In one of his first talks in Hawai’i, Yamada Kôun Rôshi said: “When your consciousness has become ripe in true zazen — pure like clear water, like a serene mountain lake, not moved by any wind — then anything may serve as a medium for realization.”...

Tradition tells us that the Buddha was preoccupied with questions about suffering. The story of Zen is the story of men and women who were open to agonizing doubts about ultimate purpose and meaning. The entire teaching of Zen is framed by questions.
Profound inquiry placed the Buddha under the Bodhi tree, and his exacting focus brought him to the serene inner setting where the simple incident of noticing the morning star could suddenly disclose the ultimate Way. As Yamada Rôshi has said, any stimulus would do — a sudden breeze with the dawn, the first twittering of birds, the appearance of the sun itself. It just happened to be a star in the Buddha’s case. ...

Samadhi means “absorption,” but fundamentally it is unity with the whole universe. When you devote yourself to what you are doing, moment by moment — to your kôan when on your cushion in zazen, to your work, study, conversation, or whatever in daily life — that is samadhi. Do not suppose that samadhi is exclusively Zen Buddhist. Everything and everybody are in samadhi, even bugs, even people in mental hospitals.

(Robert Aitken,
A Zen Wave: Basho's Haiku and Zen, Shoemaker and Hoard, Washington DC)


So here are the two early Gaelic poems extolled by Seamus Heaney. The original Gaelic is the poetry. My English translations are not the right noise. They are but clowns apeing kings. It must always be borne in mind, as Borges teaches us in one of his short stories, that a truly successful translation of Don Quixote would end up utterly indistinguishable from the original...


Int én bec 

Int én bec 
ro léic feit 
do rinn guip 
glanbuidi:

fo-ceird faíd 
ós Loch Laíg, 
lon do chraíb 
charnbuidi.

This little bird 

this little bird 
whose note is heard 
from tip of yellow- 
lustered beak:

echoes its lay 
across the bay 
blackbird on yellow- 
clustered peak. 

Scél Leum Dúib
 (9-10th Century) 

Scél lem dúib: 
Dordaid dam, 
snigid gaim, 
ro-fáith sam;

Gáeth ard úar 
ísel grían, 
Gair a rith, 
ruirtheach rían;

Rorúad rath, 

ro-cleth cruth, 
ro-gab gnáth 
gingrann guth;

Ro-gab úacht 

etti én 
aigre ré: 
é mo scél.

Brief Account 

Brief account:     
Stag’s complaint. 
Cold front.     
Summer’s spent.

High cold blow.     

Sun holds low. 
Short the day.     
Sea just spray.

Bracken brown,    

Broken down. 
Geese all mouth,     
Heading south.

Chilled each quill.     

Feathers’ flurry.  
Weather’s hoary.     
End of story! 

And just for the fun of it, I will include here a lovely Chinese poem. We have already met the famous Li Bai and Wang Wei (above). But I really must introduce you to Yang Wanli (1127-1206), concerning whom Peter Harris has this to say:


As well as its other influences, Zen had an important formative influence on the way many Chinese and Japanese poets thought about writing poetry. The Chinese poet Yang Wanli, for example, believed that there was a strong connection between the sudden enlightenment of Zen as he understood it and a sudden awakening of the poet to the true art of poetry. Yang wrote his own best poems - few of them explicitly associated with Zen, but many of them paradoxical or slightly bizarre - after experiencing just such an awakening. (Peter Harris, Foreword, Zen Poems, Selected and Edited by Peter Harris, Everyman's Library Pocket Poets, David Campbell Publishers Ltd 1999)


 Yang Wanli's poem is as follows -The Boatman's Flute

Today there is no wind on the Yangtze;
the water is calm and green
with no waves or ripples.
All around the boat
light floats in the air
over a thousand acres of smooth, lustrous jade.

One of the boatmen wants to break the silence.
High on wine, he picks up his flute
and plays into the mist.
The clear music rises to the sky -
an ape in the mountains
screaming at the moon;
a creek rushing through a gully.
Someone accompanies on the sheepskin drum,
his head held steady as a peak,
his fingers beating like raindrops.

A fish breaks the crystal surface of the water
and leaps ten feet into the air.

(Translated by Jonathan Chaves)

12. Epistemological Self-Consciousness

For Calvinist epistemology, among the most key verses in the Bible are surely the following:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:18-23)


There clearly comes a point in some people's perception when the external world is seen not as window on, or mirror of, God, but as raw uncreated otherness. In Van Til's terminology, these people have reached "epistemological self-consciousness" (in other words, their worldview is no longer inchoate or "agnostic", but their atheism is now intellectually resolved and comprehensively committed to). Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, was certainly "epistemologically self-conscious", and his existentialism engendered in him a sense of estrangement from his surroundings. In his "La Nausée", the sight of a particular tree trunk precipitates a feeling of nausea, being (ostensibly) irreducibly alien to Sartre's humanity. This is an utterly unChristian view, as Sartre was pointedly aware:


The existentialist...finds it extremely embarrassing that God does not exist, for there disappear with Him all possibility of finding values in an intelligible heaven. There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. It is nowhere written that "the good" exists, that one must be honest or must not lie, since we are now upon the plain where there are only men. Dostoievsky once wrote "If God did not exist, everything would be permitted"; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point...

Before there can be any truth whatever then, there must be an absolute truth, and there is such a truth which is simple, easily attained, and within the reach of everybody; it consists in one's immediate sense of one's self...

Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares with greater consistency that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose existence comes before its essence, a being which consists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man...

Thus there is no human nature, because there is no God to have a conception of it. Man simply is.

(
Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism)


Though Sartre in the above quote suggests that "
one's immediate sense of one's self" is "a truth which is simple, easily attained", he well knows that the paradoxes are not far to seek:


Je suis, j'existe, je pense donc je suis; je suis parce que je pense; pourquoi est-ce que je pense? je ne veux plus penser; je suis parce que je pense que je ne veux pas être; je pense que je....parce que.... pouah!

(I am, I exist, I think therefore I am; I am because I think; why is it that I think? I don't want to think any more; I am because I think that I don't want to be; I think that I....because....blah!)

(
Jean-Paul Sartre, La Nausée, Éditions Gallimard, 1938)


Calvin, for his part, in the opening words of his magnum opus the
"Institutes of the Christian Religion", insists that our sense of self is inextricably linked with our sense of God. So the elimination of God from all our thoughts, insofar as such can be achieved, is epistemological suicide ("The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God", Psalm 14:1).

Having quoted above the French of Sartre, it might be nice to begin the following quote from Calvin with a taste of his own majestic French:

 
Toute la somme de nostre saigesse, laquelle mérite d'estre apellée vraie et certaine saigesse, est quasi comprinse en deux parties, à sçavoir la congnoissance de Dieu, et de nousmesmes.

The relevant English in Beveridge's translation is:


Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other. For, in the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone.
(
Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion) (Page of English quote)

Besides Sartre, another and more contemporary, "epistemologically self-conscious" atheist is the neo-Darwinist propagandist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is a relentless reductionist (primarily to the
physical and biotic (F/B) aspects), driven by a desire to edit God from every page of reality. But he thereby leaves Earth's life-forms as mere gene-machines with no meaning beyond blank propagation. The challenge he faces, as he clearly realizes, is to avoid letting his bio-mechanistic absolutism devour all human purposefulness. Like Paul Atreides in Frank Herbert's "Dune", minute yet triumphant atop the gargantuan and omnivorous desert-cleaving worm, so Richard Dawkins plays the masterful mahout of his own all-consuming earthly Godzilla. Prophet of the selfish gene, Dawkins smiles down from on high, assuring humanity that, contrary to all appearances, we are not on the breakfast menu.

Herman Dooyeweerd gives us a philosophical analysis of the tensions within humanism, which help to make sense of Sartre (who stands at the humanist polarity of irrationalist personalism) and Dawkins (who stands at the opposite humanist polarity of rationalist scientism):


Unlike that of the Greeks and the scholastic thinkers, the inner dialectic of the Humanistic ground-motive is not born out of a conflict between two different religions. The deepest root of its dialectical character lies in the ambiguity of the Humanistic freedom-motive. The latter is the central driving force of the modern religion of human personality. And from its own depths it calls forth the motive to dominate nature, and thus leads to a religion of autonomous objective science in which there is no room for the free personality...

The Humanistic science-ideal has led philosophy into a maze of antinomies. Every time philosophical thought tried to surpass the modal boundaries of the different aspects (
numerical, spatial, physical, psychical (feeling (F/B)), logical (F/B), historical (F/B), linguistical, social, economic, juridical (F/B), ethical (F/B), pistical (F/B)) by means of a mathematical or mechanistic method, it punished itself by becoming involved in antinomies.

At this stage we only wish to point out that the consistent following out of the naturalistic ideal of science must reveal a fundamental antinomy in the basic structure of the Humanistic transcendental ground-Idea. This science-ideal, evoked by the ideal of personality, acknowledged no limits to the application of the new natural scientific method. Had not scientific thought been emancipated from the cosmic order and declared "unconditionally" sovereign?

But the moment must come when personality, the new sovereign in the Humanistic ground-motive, which had glorified itself in its absolute freedom, must itself fall a prey to this ideal of science. Personality had been absolutized in its temporal functions of
reason. The physical and biological functions had been subjected to the domination of the mathematical and mechanical method of thought. The postulate of logical continuity implied that the psychical (F/B), logical (F/B), historical (F/B), linguistical, social, economic, juridical (F/B), ethical (F/B), and faith (F/B) functions of personality must also be subjected to the naturalistic science-ideal. Thereby, the latter dealt a death blow to the sovereignty of the ideal of personality! "Die ich rief, die Geister, Werde ich nun nicht los!"
 
Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought (pp 190, 204, 205)

It is only by God's "Common Grace" that the unbeliever, or better, "
misbeliever", escapes spiritual blankness. Common Grace is operative insofar as behaviour, value-systems, culture etc, remain in harmony with God's will for humanity. Common Grace is a marker of the degree to which God restrains the outworking of God-denying presuppositions within society. Thus, despite their enmity towards Christ, atheistic scientists, politicians, engineers and artists etc, may well find themselves (despite themselves) fulfilling His plan for the Earth. To paraphrase Van Til  - We can only slap God in the face because He lifts us (as a parent lifts a child) close enough to do it.

The human rapport with nature is an implicit recognition of the transcendent God. We sense those "Divine attributes" which Paul mentions in
Romans 1. Van Til repeatedly insists that the battle of interpretation rages over every fact in the universe. We would insist, for instance, that there is no such thing as a Darwinian animal, i.e. an animal as a product of time plus chance. Animals are fundamentally misrepresented if they are not seen as creatures of the Triune God of Scripture. Van Til writes:


True human knowledge corresponds to the knowledge which God has of Himself and His world. Suppose that I am a scientist investigating the life and ways of a cow. What is this cow? I say it is an animal. But that only pushes the question back. What is an animal? To answer that question I must know what life is. But again, to know what life is I must know how it is related to the inorganic world. And so I may and must continue till I reach the borders of the universe. And even when I have reached the borders of the universe, I do not yet know what the cow is. Complete knowledge of what a cow is can be had only by an absolute intelligence, i.e., by one who has, so to speak, the blueprint of the whole universe. But it does not follow from this that the knowledge of the cow that I have is not true as far as it goes. It is true if it corresponds to the knowledge that God has of the cow.
Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (being In Defense of the Faith Volume 2), den Dulk Christian Foundation,1969

Richard Dawkins begs to differ, of course. He has just published his latest on-the-run salvo against the ever-pursuant
Hound of Heaven 

("Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth")

A big hardback book called
"The God Delusion". Occupying pride of place at the entrance of Border's bookstore, and by the stairway to Starbucks. Promoted over the Tannoy. Half-price offer. 

("Ah! must -
Designer infinite!-
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?")

The irony and tragedy for Dawkins is that
"The God Delusion" defines his own life (ie the delusion that God is not there). The same delusion which persuaded Sarte to expend his precious years in a futile attempt to interpret himself, and reality at large, in an apostate direction, i.e. away from the Creator instead of unto the Creator.

("That Voice is round me like a bursting sea")

Believing themselves to be a champions of the Truth, these men in fact "suppress the Truth", and ultimately meaning must drain from their universe.


("Halts by me that footfall")

13. Brute Otherness, Nothingness, and Wilderness


The rocks and water and bamboo and clouds and mountains and flowers beloved of Zen reference are fulfilled only in Christ. It is only the fact that we are made in the image of Him Who created them that enables these elemental objects to mirror our personalities and minds. I find Dooyeweerd, again, exceptionally helpful in these matters:

The totality of meaning of our whole temporal cosmos is to be found in Christ, with respect to His human nature, as the root of the reborn human race. In Him the heart, out of which are the issues of life, confesses the sovereignty of God, the Creator, over everything created...

Sin is the revolt against the Sovereign of our cosmos. It is the
apostasy from the fullness of meaning and the deifying, the absolutizing, of meaning, to the level of God's Being. Our temporal world, in its diversity and coherence of meaning, is in the order of God's creation bound to the religious root of mankind. Apart from this root it has no meaning and so no reality. Hence the apostasy in the heart, in the religious root of the temporal world, signified the apostasy of the entire temporal creation, which was concentrated in mankind....

Our thesis...is founded in the Divine Revelation concerning the creation of man in the image of God. Since God has created the 'earthly' world in a concentric relation to the religious root of human existence, there cannot exist an 'earthly' 'world in itself' apart from the structural horizon of human experience.

Herman Dooyeweerd
, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, I, 99, 100, and II, 549

Now, in the midst of these words of Dooyeweerd, I find the following sentences in particular of profound relevance to questions of  "Brute Otherness"and "Nothingness". Dooyeweerd says that
"Our temporal world, in its diversity and coherence of meaning, is... bound to the religious root of mankind. Apart from this root it has no meaning and so no reality". He also says that "there cannot exist an earthly 'world in itself' apart from the structural horizon of human experience". Dooyeweerd is adamant that reality is not self-existently "out there". It is not a "Ding an sich". Yet neither is it subjective, simply in our heads. He is saying that the meaning of the cosmos flows from God, but via humanity. Humanity in its apostasy has attempted to find meaning in the discrete "thing in itself". But the "thing in itself" is illusion. Delusion. Fool's gold which turns to dust. Then to abyss. Brute Otherness turns to Nothingness.

But Christ is the root of a "con-verted" ("about-turned") humanity. A humanity which ceases in its futile determination to interpret reality
away from God, and undertakes anew its original commission to interpret reality unto God. Which begins to discover the face of God in every fact of the cosmos. And thus to discover our own face. To discover that we are not alienated but at home. The resonance of each fact is infinite, since the One from Whom the meaning flows is infinite. So we through whom the meaning flows are conduits of the infinite, crying Hallelujah!

We see therefore that there is a point at which Zen objectivity (at best startlingly beautiful) pushes beyond 'common grace' clarity and asserts raw atheist dogma. Much as existentialism does. Much as the  philosophical materialism of neo-Darwinism does. Christ as meaning of the rocks is in some fundamental way denied with all the "epistemological self-consciousness" of resolute atheism. The result is brute blank Nature, void of meaning or common intimacy with us:


"Maintenant je savais: les choses sont tout entières ce qu'elles paraissent - et derrière elles... il n'y a rien"

("Now I knew: objects are entirely what they appear to be - and
behind them... there is nothing")

(
Jean-Paul Sartre, La Nausée, Éditions Gallimard, 1938, p137,138)

The cosmic "wall-panel" enigmatically and instantly revolves again from objective to subjective. The rocks cease to appear as concrete particulars founded on Christ as concrete universal. Now all concrete particulars are sacrificed to the pseudo-universal of our own Zen-atheist mind. As a result, Nothingness is experienced as all-pervasive. But in Christ there is
no Nothingness. For in Him (whether we like it or not) we live, and move, and have our being. As the nature-replete Song of Moses reminds us - 


Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.
I will proclaim the name of the LORD .
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
They have acted corruptly toward him;
to their shame they are no longer his children,
but a warped and crooked generation.
Is this the way you repay the LORD,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is he not your Father, your Creator,
who made you and formed you?
You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.
See now that I myself am He!
There is no god besides me.
I put to death and I bring to life,
I have wounded and I will heal,
no-one can deliver out of my hand." (Deuteronomy 32:1-6, 18, 39)

When the True Rock is denied, the abyss opens. Van Til comments -


"When the non-Christian, not working on the foundation of creation and providence, talks about musts in relation to facts he is beating the air. His logic is merely the exercise of a revolving door in a void, moving nothing from nowhere into the void."(Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Nutley, New Jersey, 1977, p 299)

These words of Van Til are startlingly reminiscent of Zen. It is as if Calvinist and Zenist both glimpse what existence without Christ entails, and their testimonies confirm one another.

In
Darwinland, in Zenland, (to adapt the film trailer cliché) no-one can hear you scream. Of course, no-one can hear you laugh either. The pathos of this is heartbreaking. Listen to this poignant comment from Peter Ralston in a transcribed interview in the above-mentioned book "Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power"-


"I've found a lot of joy in this work. I've experienced a lot of joy. I almost break down and cry for joy sometimes. Once I was doing a routine and it was feeling perfect without any thought of its perfection. The tremendousness of that...! There is a beauty that I can't really talk about; a tremendous, great, beautiful thing happening, and I was just feeling it. When I stepped out of the movement I didn't think about it, I simply felt gratitude in my heart, love and gratitude and I wanted to thank somebody. I turned around, and there was nobody to thank. So, I bowed. My body just went down. I bowed as if my body and heart just wanted to express a deep respect and gratitude for no 'reason'. (p 149)


In an article on Haiku, the Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock writes the following-


"Caroline Gourlay, one-time editor of Blyth Spirit, Journal of the British Haiku Society, recalls how deeply impressed she was with these lines found in The World of Zen, an anthology edited by Nancy Wilson Ross:


        The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection.
        The water has no mind to receive their image."


I wonder if, with these lines, we are not on the cusp of the matter. Here is the moment when objectivity teeters on the brink of Brute Otherness and meaninglessness. Of course, the Calvinist does not imagine either that the geese intend to cast their reflection, nor that the water has a mind to reflect them. But the Calvinist resists totally a reductionist view which concludes that geese and water are brute facts, that there is no transcendent Mind to suffuse them with individual and mutual coherence. The 'Rock' fathered them. The meaning of geese and water is infinitely personal in Him. Their concrete reality is founded in Him. He, not blank chance, wounds them and heals them. ("That the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice" Psalm 51:8).

Consider the ravens. Consider the
geese. Consider the sparrows, indeed - "Not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matt 10 29-31) "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Whom be the glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11:36). 

And because all things are His, all things are also ours in Him -


For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,"He catches the wise in their own craftiness"; and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile."Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. (1 Cor  3:19-23)


Dooyeweerd comments:

In the Biblical attitude of naïve experience the transcendent, religious dimension of its horizon is opened. The light of eternity radiates perspectively through all the temporal dimensions of this horizon and even illuminates seemingly trivial things and events in our sinful world...

 
It would be an illusion to suppose that a true Christian always displays this Biblical attitude in his pre-theoretical experience. Far from it. Because he is not exempt from the solidarity of the fall into sin, every Christian knows the emptiness of an experience of the temporal world which seems to be shut up in itself. He knows the impersonal attitude of a 'Man' in the routine of common life, and the dread of nothingness, the meaningless, if he tries to find himself again in a so-called existential isolation. He is acquainted with all this from personal experience, though he does not understand the philosophical analysis of this state of spiritual uprooting in Humanistic existentialism.
But the Christian whose heart is opened to the Divine Word-revelation knows that in this apostate experiential attitude he does not experience temporal things and events as they really are. i.e. as meaning pointing beyond and above itself to the true religious centre of meaning and to the true Origin.”

Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, III, p29

And this from Calvin:


As soon as ever we depart from Christ, there is nothing, be it ever so gross or insignificant in itself, respecting which we are not necessarily deceived.

(Jean Calvin,
Commentary on Genesis, Argument)
http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/ipb-e/epl-01/cvgn1-02.txt

Another bird-story (you need your French for this). In
"Le Zen et les Oiseaux de Kentigern", the final chapter of his essay-book "La Figure du Dehors", Kenneth White discusses the work of his fellow Scot, Neil Gunn, who shared White's interest in Zen. White refers us to certain aspects of Gunn's novel "Highland River"in this regard, but adds that reference to Zen is most explicit in Gunn's essay entitled "Light". White's French reads:


Je ne saurais dire où Gunn avait puisé l'histoire qu'il appelle celle des "oies sauvages", mais la source originale est le Pi Yen Lu (Recueil de la falaise bleue), un des principaux livres du bouddhisme, très prisé notamment des adeptes zen. Il fut composé par un moine tch'an chinois, Hsueh-tu, au XIe siècle, et sous le titre Les Canards sauvages de Hyaku-jo, l'histoire dit ceci:

«Un jour, Ba tei-shi se promenait avec un de ses disciples, Hyaku-jo, quand ils virent sugir devant eux un canard sauvage. "Qu'est-ce que s'était?" demanda Ba Tei-shi. Et Hyaku-jo répondit: "Un canard sauvage." Ba Tei-shi: "Où est-il parti?" Hyaku-jo: "Il s'est envolé." Irrité par un réponse si banale, Ba Tei-shi tordit le nez à Hyaku-jo. Hyaku-jo cria de douleur. Ba Tei-shi dit alors: "Imbécile! Tu dis qu'il s'est envolé. Mais il n'a pas changé de place. »

[«Baso and Hyakujo were out walking one day when they saw a wild duck take flight in front of them. "What was that?"Baso said. "A wild duck" Hyakujo answered. Baso asked, "Where did it go?". Hyakujo replied, "It flew away". Annoyed by such a banal response, Baso twisted Hyakujo's nose. Hyakujo cried out in pain. Then Baso said "Imbecile! You say it flew away. But it has not changed position"»]


White then quotes Gunn's commentary on this koan. Gunn states that koans are beyond definitive interpretation, but suggests that the master's physical gesture enables the disciple to transcend thought for the first time - his spirit is arrested, the void invades, light inundates,
"et les oies sont devenues immortelles". White takes issue with this last point:


Si je dis que Gunn n'a pas tout à fait compris, c'est qu'en aucun cas on ne peut affirmer que les oies sauvages sont devenues immortelles. Il n'y a pas de place pour l'éternité dans la logique bouddhiste. Les "oies sauvages" de Gunn font bien plus penser au vase grec de Keats qu'aux espaces vides, parcourus d'instants fugitifs, du zen.
     Quand Ba Tei-shi posa sa question piège à propos des canards sauvages, Hyaku-jo aurait dû, non pas répondre, mais déjouer, non pas suivre la logique de la question, mais la briser, selon la logique négativiste bouddhiste...tandis qu'il lui aurait fallu montrer qu'il était capable de s'ouvrir au monde, et de voler "dans la vide", commes les canards sauvages, qui ne vont nulle part: ils vont, dans le vide (sans se poser de questions, ne demandant donc aucune réponse). Dans le bouddhisme, personne ne va nulle part, puisque la "personne" n'existe pas, et que le monde étant un tout, on ne peut aller "nulle part", il s'agit seulement d'être pleinement au monde, un monde vide de distinctions, un monde blanc. (Kenneth White,
La Figure de Dehors, Grasset, Livre de Poche, 1978, pp 209-215)

In part 5 above we noted a curious verse in Paul's letter to the Corinthians. The Israelites have left Egypt and are struggling through the wilderness towards the Promised Land. Paul says -


"they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Cor 10:5)

This verse perhaps vies with any koan in defying adequate interpretation. It occurs to me, though, as suggested above, that in a real sense the verse impresses on us that the Homeland of the Israelite was not in fact over the horizon in Canaan. The real Homeland was with them all the time. It was always where they were. That Rock was Christ. And in the light of White's discussion here of the wild duck koan, and especially his observation that from the Buddhist point of view nobody goes anywhere
("personne ne va nulle part"), it strikes me all the more forcibly that there is a radical sense in which the Christian is always "at home", since Christ has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Moreover, in this same sense, the Christian is (paradoxically) most "at home" when life is experienced as a "wilderness journey". It is not without some awareness of irony that this observation is ventured in the context of Kenneth White's writings. He is a supreme exponent of a very engaging genre of literature which combines wilderness travel with sophisticated discussions regarding the meaning of existence (cf Pirsig). These often fascinating and informative discourses by White are nonetheless marked by a deep-rooted hostility to Christianity. For him, the latter is a nightmare - a nightmare we have endured far too long:


Enfant, grâce à une éducation religiouse écossaise, je baignais jusqu'au cou dans la Bible, dont je connaissais des chapitres par cœur. De là, étant donné le «fonds» dont je parle ici, une légère schizophrénie...Sans vouloir entrer dans une polémique quelconque, on me comprendra si je dis qu'a partir du moment où j'ai pu voir clair, j'ai préféré nettement «le bruit des vagues le matin sur les plages de galets blancs» à des passages  de la Bible comme celui-ci (Apocalypse XIX, 12-16):

«Ses yeux? Une flamme ardente. Sur sa tête, plusiers diadèmes. Inscrit sur lui, un nom qu'il est seul à connaître. Le manteau qui l'enveloppe est trempé de sang. Et son nom? Le Verbe de Dieu [...] De sa bouche sort une épée acérée pour en frapper les paîens. C'est lui qui les mènera avec un sceptre de fer. C'est lui qui foule dans la cuve le vin de l'ardente colère de Dieu, le Maître de tout. Un nom est inscrit sur son manteau et sur sa cuisse: Roi des rois et Seigneur des seigneurs.»
English

Nous sommes en plein cauchemar. Et nous y sommes depuis trop longtemps. (Kenneth White,
La Figure du Dehors, Grasset, Livres de Poche, 1978, p 26)

From White's pro-shamanist perspective the coming of Christianity eclipsed (he might prefer a less neutral word like "suppressed") a more idyllic engagement of humanity with nature. Though he is magnanimous enough to quote the following hymn (attributed to St Patrick), White qualifies his endorsement by informing us that it expresses
"un naturalisme cosmique bien rare dans le christianisme", and indeed that it evinces the saving grace (as it were) of a residual "sense «païen» du paysage":


Je me lie aujourd'hui
à la puissance du ciel
à la lumière du soleil
à la blancheur de la neige
à la force du feu
à l'illumination de l'éclair
à la vitesse du vent
à la profondeur de la mer
à la stabilité de la terre
à la dureté des rochers...


I cannot pass up the opportunity here of presenting the original ancient Gaelic of the above quote
(A Thighearna, cluinn, agus beannaich ar cànan as ùr!):


Atomriug indiu
niurt nime
soilsi gréine
étrochtai snechtai (ésci)
áini thened
déini lóchet
lúaithi gaíthe
fudomnai maro
tairismigi thalman
cobsaidi ailech.
http://wikisource.org/wiki/St._Patrick%27s_Breastplate

It will be clear by now that my own conviction is the reverse of White's, to whit that it is a residual paganism (e.g. Gnostic dualism) within Christianity which has often compromised its engagement with nature.
14. Between Two Insanities

I recently came across an online critique of Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and his follow-up book "Lila" (1991) by Professor Herman J Pietersen of South Africa. Professor Pietersen's response is a mix of commendation and condemnation. The books, he says, are stimulating reading but they fail to establish Pirsig's case:

Despite Pirsig's erudition, wide-ranging intellect and highly entertaining novels, in the end the Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ) could not escape the subjectivist-objectivist cage that Pirsig so dearly (almost desperately) wanted to transcend.

For Pietersen, the second book ("Lila") in a sense "betrays" the first by setting out to define what the latter claimed was beyond definition. He can appreciate Pirsig's dilemma:


The Quality that can be defined is not the real Quality (as in the Buddhistic tradition), yet the Quality that cannot be defined cannot be communicated (in the Western tradition) as a possibly useful intellectual construct...The problem is that if 'Quality' cannot be firmly defined one sooner or later has to conclude that the idea is beyond intelligent discourse, and therefore demands a Wittgensteinian silence.

So, the more Pirsig charts the unfathomable seas of Quality, the more he loses his bearings, until, dismayingly, this latter-day Homeric hero finds himself back where he began, trapped between the Scylla and Charybdis of the mind:


Placed within ancient Greek philosophical context: in a classic Platonic manner, Pirsig left the many behind in a supreme effort to identify (and become identified, in an almost spiritual sense) with the one [the Good or 'Quality' that is, for him, beyond even the Form of forms]. However, it is to be doubted whether humankind can ever escape the dialectic of the one and the many. Neither Plato and Aristotle and the whole of Western philosophy thereafter, could — hence the ongoing battle between rationalists and relativists; Platonists against Sophists; Materialists/ Empiricists against Idealists, particularists against universalists, and so on.

At root all our thinking is locked in an eternal struggle between the One and the Many — even the dyed-in-the-wool 'Pluralist' (and Pirsig's philosophical guru) William James, regarded this most basic of philosophical distinctions with an attitude approaching reverence, as that philosophical concept which is 'most pregnant with meaning'. To escape the one (for the many) would mean mental anarchy (the tyranny of the many, ex-plosion and disintegration, thus: insanity); to escape the many (for the one) would mean mental atrophy (the tyranny of the one, im-plosion and everlasting silence, thus: insanity).

(The Philosophy of Robert M Pirsig by Herman J Pietersen, Department of Industrial Psychology, Vista University, South Africa.)
http://www.philosophos.com/philosophy_article_118.html

I find Pietersen's short critique persuasive enough, though in my case he was pushing on an open door. From a Calvinist point of view Pirsig's terminal flaw was fairly apparent at an early stage of
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". The great bell tolled the moment Pirsig posited a cerebral abstraction ("Quality") as his transcendent starting-point, thereby making a reified absolute of that which is necessarily derivative and relative. Dooyeweerd has taught us that such an idolatrous absolute inevitably summons forth, sooner or later, its counter-absolute. In the end, the very real value of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" is (to my mind) not that the proposed destination is conclusively reached, but that so much engaging, elevating, exhilarating wisdom is surveyed and explored en route.

One thing I find intriguing about the above quote from Pietersen is its seemingly nonchalant acceptance of the "one and the many" dichotomy as a "given" of Western philosophy. Partisans of both polarities of the dichotomy are duly listed for us (
"rationalists and relativists; Platonists against Sophists; Materialists/ Empiricists against Idealists, particularists against universalists, and so on"), but we are disarmingly informed that "it is to be doubted whether humankind can ever escape the dialectic of the one and the many" and "At root all our thinking is locked in an eternal struggle between the One and the Many". It strikes me anew here that, despite the smoke and mirrors of rationalist starting-points, paradox is actually as much at the heart of Western secular philosophy as it is of Zen philosophy and of Calvinist philosophy. Pietersen, at any rate, seems to invite that conclusion. So we do have an interesting epistemological consonance here - namely, that the starting-point of thought defies (transcends) logic.

Which brings me to what principally caught my attention when first I glanced at Pietersen's article - a brief and unexpected allusion to Herman Dooyeweerd. Pirsig and Dooyeweerd are economically and elegantly roped together to be summarily dispatched with the selfsame bullet. Or so Pietersen would have it:


Pirsig's metaphysical system reflects an error that, for instance, also occurs in the elaborate cosmological system of the distinguished Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, namely, of mixing ontological and intellectual categories into one supposedly foolproof cosmology. But, 'Intellectual' (as with the 'logical' in Dooyeweerd's system of fifteen interrelated modalities of reality) does not fit into the system — it is the source and instrument by which the cosmological system is created in the first place, not a cosmological entity in itself!


Well, I guess Dooyeweerd ain't gonna be slain by no paintball one-liner from Pietersen. So mercifully there's no need for me to launch my sorry flab into the path of the projectile. That would be impertinent anyway. The stuff of farce, even. Yet, while Dooyeweerd needs me not, the co-ordinates of Pietersen's attack give me an opportunity to specify why I have found Dooyeweerd's thinking helpful. And indeed, perhaps even why I have found Zen helpful.

There is no doubt that Dooyeweerd would reject Pietersen's criticism here. In fact, ironically, Pietersen's words echo a criticism Dooyeweerd himself levelled at another critic -


"...we also find in [D.F.M.] Strauss a continual confusion between the 'ontical' and the epistemological states of affairs. In the Prolegomena of the transcendental critique of the theoretical attitude of thought and experience, I have remarked that in the subject-object relations of naive attitude of thought and experience, empirical reality is understood as it gives itself, that is to say in the continuous systatic coherence and relatedness of its modal aspects within cosmic time. But in the Gegenstand-relation, these modal aspects are epistemologically (not 'ontically') split apart and set over against each other, with the intention of bringing them into view in their general modality, and thereby making them available for theoretical concepts."

Quoted by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen at
http://www.members.shaw.ca/jgfriesen/Definitions/Intentional.html

Dr J. Glenn Friesen himself summarizes the matter as follows:


"Strauss regards abstraction as occurring intra-modally within the logical subject-object relation. But for Dooyeweerd, theoretical thought is an act, which functions in all of the aspects. The splitting apart of the aspects, the dis-stasis from the systasis or continuity of cosmic time, is such an act. It is not based on the logical function alone. So although the Gegenstand-relation sets the logical function of thought over against other aspects, this opposition is not itself of a logical nature. This is something that Dooyeweerd also says in the Encyclopedia. And if we distinguish in this way between the functions of an act of thought, opposing to itself an abstracted aspect, then there is no reason why the act of thought cannot investigate the logical aspect itself.
***
The important issue is, how do we get from the
enstatic relation of naïve thought, with its continuous, ontic, systatic experience of cosmic time to the epistemological relation that is merely intentional? How do we get from the religious over-against relation, which is ontical but not theoretical, to that initial Gegenstand Level 1, which is not ontical but purely intentional? This is the issue that Strauss is struggling with in his article 'Discussion', although he comes to a very different conclusion than Dooyeweerd."

Quoted from (pp 5,6 and 39 pdf file):
"Dooyeweerd versus Strauss: Objections to immanence philosophy within reformational thought" by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen http://www.members.shaw.ca/hermandooyeweerd/Objections.html

It must be said that it takes a fair bit of reading of Dooyeweerd to get your head round his terminology and to begin to grasp something of the astounding enormity of his contribution. As a non-academic in these matters, I have frequently felt over the years while reading first Van Til and then (even more so) Dooyeweerd, that the experience is not unlike a particularly challenging hill-trek entailing long stretches of near vertical climbing, punctuated by grassy vantage points with breathtaking vistas. The prominence I have given Dooyeweerd in this article
"Zen and the Art of Calvinist Epistemology" is a measure of my personal indebtedness to him, and is despite the fact (of which I am well aware) that Dooyeweerd eventually preferred the simple designation "Christian" to "Calvinist". He felt that the latter term over-elevates one man. It should also be mentioned that Dooyeweerd's program is in no wise short of detractors within the Calvinist camp itself. Very far from it. Further, it is as well to be aware that there are high-profile pro-Dooyeweerdians who reject or undervalue key elements of Dooyeweerd's thought, in particular his notion of the "supratemporal heart", i.e. that you and I in our innermost self or ego transcend time. In support of the latter, Dooyeweerd was fond of quoting the following words in bold from Ecclesiastes (and it is with some sense of elegant symmetry that I note that these words happened to be contained in the passage from Ecclesiastes which we read at the outset):


"I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts..." (Ecclesiastes 3:11)


As highlighted elsewhere in this article, Dooyeweerd puts immense emphasis on what he calls "naive" experience, i.e. everyday holistic involvement with the business of living. (You may notice that the "Zen" light has just flashed on the dashboard). You and I are concrete selfs. When we engage in abstract thinking, we patently do not
become abstract. That would be a metaphysical variant of the Indian rope trick. The thinker is concrete. Moreover, the act of thought is concrete. The activity of thought is actual. It is an event. And my thoughts as concrete acts function within (ie can be viewed from the perspective of) not only the logical aspect, but also the aesthetic aspect, the ethical aspect, the pistical (faith) aspect, and so on.

Pietersen's charge (quoted above) against Dooyeweerd is that the "logical" (
F/B) cannot be one of Dooyeweerd's "modalities" because his whole suite of modalities must necessarily derive from the "logical". While this accusation is at first sight plausible, I would suggest that it betrays a logicism whereby the concrete thinking self behind the logic is lost sight of. Moreover it fails to appreciate Dooyeweerd's profound insight that the modalities (aspects) are irreducible to each other. Thus, for instance, the non-logical modalities refuse to be absorbed by the logical modality, as Pietersen's view would require. Dooyeweerd would have it that the irreducible, ungraspable kernel of each modality (that of the logical modality included) is "supratemporal". The source of each kernel's meaning is found, as the source of your meaning and mine is found, in God via Christ as Root of Mankind and Mediator of the cosmos.

So while Professor Pietersen surely puts his finger on the correct anatomical locale as he checks for Dooyeweerd's "vital signs", I would venture that the patient is considerably healthier than the good Professor's head-shaking diagnosis suggests.

OK. So this brings me close to what for me is homebase. Dooyeweerd has brought to my life a nascent grasp of how our thought-world ought to articulate with the real world, and of where the balance of priorities should lie. To me, his championing of concrete reality is both heroic and momentous. His insistence that
theorization, however important and desirable it is, should not distract us from but confirm us in the concrete world, has been for me a profoundly existential healthcheck. A deliverance from the Hellenistic dichotomous vaunting of the cerebral over the material, of the conceptual over the actual. And in the light of the foregoing you can no doubt see why that strand of Zen which defends immediate concrete reality against speculative reverie might attract me.

What then is the bridge which Dooyeweerd identifies as the structural link between our inner theoretical landscape and the concrete world upon which we stand? The answer is our
intuition, which Dooyeweerd locates as the "bottom layer" of our thought:


It is that temporal bottom layer of the latter [the analytical modus] by means of which our analytical function of thought is embedded [ingesteld] in cosmic time itself. Through this bottom layer our thought is in continuous temporal contact with all the other modal functions which our selfhood can claim in time as its own. This temporal bottom layer of actual analysis is our intuition. (NC II, 473).

Only in our intuition is our logical subject-function in actual temporal contact with the other aspects of reality. (NC II, 478).


This might be an appropriate point at which to add that I am very much beholden to the fresh analysis of Dooyeweerd provided by Dr J Glenn Friesen. This has significantly enhanced my understanding of Herman Dooyeweerd's writings. Indeed I would go so far as to say that it has precipitated a breakthrough in my life as I seek to engage with the concrete reality into which Christ redeems us and which He graciously floods with meaning on our behalf. To put the matter in more philosophical terms, Friesen has helped me gain a far deeper insight into the manner in which Dooyeweerd's thought articulates the crucial interface between the ontical and the epistemological. Friesen's home page is at -
http://www.members.shaw.ca/jgfriesen/index.html

Now the question arises in my mind as to whether in practice Zen at its best does not
also manifest a profoundly central engagement with intuition. And I note with interest that no less than Daisetz T. Suzuki confirms that it does:


"[T]here is no Zen without satori, which is indeed the Alpha and Omega of Zen Buddhism. . . . Satori may be defined as an intuitive looking into the nature of things in contradistinction to the analytical or logical understanding of it." D. T. Suzuki, Essays in Zen Buddhism, First Series (London: Rider and Co., 1950, reprint, 1985), pp. 229-230

The above is quoted by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith in his online article "
Zen: A Trinitarian Critique". Smith goes on to discuss Suzuki's distinction between Buddhism's "prajna" and "vijnana" knowledge - the former being intuitive and relating to "Oneness", the latter logic-based and relating to "Multiplicity". For Smith, "Zen epistemology is clearly and emphatically monistic". He observes that prajna subsumes vijnana. He quotes Suzuki to this effect, while noting Suzuki's prevarications. Smith says:

 
    Suzuki, thus, makes a distinction between a rational approach to knowledge based upon logic, an approach to knowledge that operates with words and distinctions between things, and an irrational approach to knowledge that is based upon an experience. Prajna-intuition takes us directly to the One by means of a transrational experience. This is the only way the One can be known because any approach involving logic or words would also inescapably depend upon making distinctions and thus never really lead to the One. The world of the Many, on the other hand, is known by logic and verbal reasoning. Vijnana may be used to describe types of knowledge as different as common sense, philosophy, or physics, but in any case it is immersed in the manyness of things...
     Suzuki believes these two types of knowledge are related and underneath the apparent differences there is a more basic unity...
     The significance of this for Zen metaphysics is clear. The One is ultimate, and only the knowledge of the One is, in the final analysis, true knowledge. But, of course, if Zen Buddhists stopped with assertions like those above, they would have in effect granted the multiplicity of things for they seem to be accepting the distinction between the One and the Many. Suzuki, therefore, also says:


To speak more logically, if this is allowable with prajna-intuition, everything connected with vijnana also belongs to prajna; prajna is there in its wholeness; it is never divided even when it reveals itself in each assertion or negation made by vijnana. To be itself vijnana polarizes itself, but prajna never loses its unitive totality. . . . [W]e may say this: not unity in multiplicity, nor multiplicity in unity; but unity is multiplicity and multiplicity is unity. In other words prajna is vijnana, and vijnana is prajna; only, this is to be "immediately" apprehended and not after a tedious and elaborate and complicated process of dialectic. [Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro, "Reason and Intuition in Buddhist Philosophy" in Charles A. Moore, ed., The Japanese Mind, Essentials of Japanese Philosophy and Culture (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1967, pp. 74-75]

Not merely the ultimacy of the One -- which leaves the distinction between the One and the Many intact -- but the identity of the One and the Many is the way of a truly consistent monism. ("Zen: A Trinitarian Critique" by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith)

Smith goes on to quote Suzuki denying that Zen is a monistic pantheism:


In pantheism there is still an antithesis of subject and object, and the idea of an all-permeating God in the world of plurality is the work of postulation. Prajna-intuition precludes this. No distinction is allowed here between the one and the many, the whole and the parts. When a blade of grass is lifted the whole universe is revealed there; in every pore of the skin there pulsates the life of the triple world, and this is intuited by prajna, not by way of reasoning but "immediately." The characteristic of prajna is this "immediacy." If we have reasoning to do here, it comes too late; as the Zen masters would say, "a speck of white cloud ten thousand miles away."

[Suzuki Daisetz Teitaro,
"Reason and Intuition in Buddhist Philosophy" in Charles A. Moore, ed., The Japanese Mind, Essentials of Japanese Philosophy and Culture (Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1967), p. 74]

Smith responds to the above with the following:

    
While Suzuki disallows that Zen is pantheistic, the justification that he offers is nothing if not pantheistic. What he is saying, in effect, is that when pantheism is taken seriously it cannot be called pantheism because "pantheism" is an academic label for a philosophy that can be defined by words. To allow that Zen is pantheism would be admitting that it can be categorized accurately by human language. This involves an acceptance of the Many (words) as a legitimate approach to the One and may even imply that the Many are more ultimate. At any rate, it reduces the One to the level of the Many and to the realm of human logic.
     Zen cannot tolerate academic labels and definitions because it claims to transcend words and offer an absolute and direct experience of the ultimate One. Suzuki's denial of pantheism, then, amounts to a statement that a truly consistent pantheism must reject any label that would place it within a specific logical framework. When scholars define Zen as pantheism, they make Zen just another philosophy among the Many, whereas it claims to be the road to freedom from all dualism. Thus, in accordance with its pantheistic logic, the label pantheism must be denied by Zen.
("Zen: A Trinitarian Critique" by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith)

As I have drafted and redrafted this essay, my indebtedness to Dooyeweerd has continued to deepen very markedly. Nonetheless, there is an area of Dooyeweerd's thought over which I confess I still remain unresolved, and that is his view of the status and function of the text of Scripture. Curiously, some resonance or other in the last quotations above from Suzuki and Smith have brought this back to mind. As far as I have grasped it, Dooyeweerd's perspective is that the Word of God is the
dunamis of God which includes, but is not restricted to Scripture. Scripture itself informs us that Christ is "upholding all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). So far so good. Mere knowledge of the text of Scripture does not indicate consonant knowledge of the Living God, as the Pharisees treatment of Christ definitively demonstrated. Again, so far so good. Beyond this point, however, I feel somewhat insecure in conveying Dooyeweerd's position accurately. I'll try. The power of the Word of God engages us in a "pre-theoretical" manner. That is, it captures our "heart", it impresses its Truth upon us, prior to our theorizing about Scripture (or about anything else). I am still on board. Now here comes the bit I don't get yet. On the basis of the foregoing, Dooyweerd considers it to be rationalistic to view Scripture as "propositional". In other words, the text of Scripture cannot be taken as informing the sciences (even the science of theology). For instance, jurisprudence won't look to the ten commandments as basis. That would not be scientific. It would simply be dogmatism.

Online Dooyeweerdians tend to defend this viewpoint strongly, characterizing the opposing view as one of "proof-texting fundamentalism" (perpetrators of which are admittedly plenteous). This is for me, however, yet another polarisation. Dooyeweerd himself quoted Scripture frequently enough, as far as I can see. Often enough, at least, to show that he was no absolutist in this matter. Though perhaps the riposte would be that he quoted the text of Scripture on occasion as a kind of "underscoring" of his scientific thought, rather than as an "underpinning". Nevertheless and notwithstanding, he did certainly consider his thought to be based on the Word of God. That is his whole point. He felt that he was founding his thought on the Word of God in the only proper (biblically-sound) way. He is explicit that the central "ground-motive" of "Creation, Fall and Redemption" must undergird all science which is outworked in a biblical manner. But the relevance to science of the actual text of Scripture seems to be, from his point of view, minimal. (For a pro-Dooyeweerd perspective on this matter listen to particularly the latter half of this late 1960's audio of a lecture by Dr Arnold De Graaff, entitled "
Distinction Between Naive Experience and Theoretical Thought of Dooyeweerd"). This brings us close to one of the divides between Dooyeweerdians and Van Tillians. Sides are taken. Blows are exchanged. Not many aikidoists in evidence. "Protect your opponent" is not a marked feature of these engagements (for a moment's diversion, you may care to peruse my short spoof entitled "The Dastardly Slaying of Dewey the Weird"). Here is how the late Dr Greg L. Bahnsen articulated the issue (though an unrivalled and  dynamic exponent of Van Til's apologetic approach, Bahnsen's theonomic views take us well beyond Van Til's textual exegesis and make Bahnsen seriously problematic for most Calvinists, not least, of course, for the Dooyeweerdian school):


     Dooyeweerd taught...that philosophy must establish the presuppositions of the sciences in general, including the science of theology. Theology is for Dooyeweerd a "theoretical" discipline alongside other sciences, such as history, psychology, economics, biology, math, etc. - all of which are distinguished as theoretical sciences by the fact that they draw rational distinctions within one's experience and study one of the differentiated aspects (modalites) of experience in an objectified, logical way (unlike the naive or pre-theoretical experience of things in their undifferentiated wholeness). According to Dooyeweerd, it is the task of philosophy to provide a coherent and total view of temporal experience in terms of which the mutual relations, inner structure, and nature of the special sciences are explained.  The individual sciences (including theology) cannot provide this total view within which all the sciences are schematized, ordered, and regulated; only philosophy can do that. Therefore, Dooyeweerd maintains that philosophy "delimits" theological science, that theological science "is in need of a philosophical foundation," and that "theology in its scientific sense is bound to philosophical fundamentals."

    Now then, even though he insists that philosophy is not dependent on exegesis and theology, Dooyeweerd wants to deny that philosophy can be religiously neutral or autonomous. It is always done in the "radical grip of a central basic-motive." Philosophy may regulate theology, but philosophy itself is controlled by a personal, religious heart-attitude. Dooyeweerd would have the Christian philosopher do his work under the subjectively controlling grip of the "word of God" - not the text of Scripture (which would bring us back to a theoretical study subject to philosophically controlled presuppositions), - but the "spiritual power" of its pre-theoretical theme of creation-fall-redemption as addressed to "the heart." Thus, Dooyeweerd contends that philosophy should be "controlled by" the word (its spiritual power) but not "derived from" the Bible (its textual meaning). "The Bible does not provide us with philosophical ideas", and to say otherwise (to take philosophical content from Scripture) is scholastic "rationalism".

    This is a troublesome conception of Christian philosophy. In it, once again, the verbal teaching of God's revealed word is subordinated to some controlling authority outside of itself - and that actually runs contrary to the Bible's own verbal teaching (Col. 1: 18; 2 Cor 10:5). The philosopher is placed in the privileged position of laying down for the exegete how the Bible may and may not be used, how its teachings must be broadly conceived, and what the Bible can and cannot say. Reason becomes a vestibule for faith (believing truths of theology). Philosophy is thereby rendered rationally autonomous, even if the philosopher's "heart is gripped" by the power of God's word. This granting of rational autonomy to philosophy is especially evident from Dooyeweerd's understanding of "transcendental criticism" as an inquiry into the conditions that make theoretical thought possible - an inquiry that does not assume a "transcendent' (dogmatic theology), but can be successfully pursued by every philosophical position in general. The Christian's theological outlook is not to be brought into the "transcendental critique" from the very outset, but only later in the dialogue with unbelieving philosophies. The deadly assumption here is that some philosophical reasoning is possible or intelligible for the unbeliever without presupposing the Christian worldview. That makes philosophical reasoning autonomous after all, and the apologetical case is lost from the very start.

   Acknowledging subjective commitment (a gripped heart) does not remove this rational autonomy. Practically speaking, it is not clear how the philosopher is supposed to be "gripped" by a powerful theme whose truth is not in any way rationally interpreted and believed on basis of the biblical text. This separation of power from meaning in God's word tends toward mysticism, subjectivism, and arbitrariness - all of which are deadly for the work of defending the faith. Moreover, the very distinction between theoretical and pre-theoretical thought is difficult to draw clearly and cogently since each candidate for explaining it ends up either making one of them impossible (e.g., only God sees all truth in relation to all other truth, thus in a concrete, undifferentiated fashion) or placing them on a continuum (e.g., between more or less abstract reasoning or scholarly analysis). Dooyeweerd's scheme unduly confines the relevance of scholarly exegesis of Scripture to the science of theology, rather than making it pertinent to the content and methods of all the other sciences.


(Greg L. Bahnsen
"Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis", P & R Publishing, 1998, pp 47-54)(Compare also pages 8-16 of Bahnsen's "The Theonomic Antithesis to Other Law Attitudes"pdf)

You say
"prajna" and I say "vijnana" - let's call the whole thing off?

The Chinese name for China is
中國 (Zhōngguó), which means "Middle Kingdom". The Chinese term for "neutral" is 中立 (zhōng lì), which means "standing in the middle". I have strongly supported in this essay the view that, in regard to God, there exists no neutrality in any area whatsoever of our lives. However, as regards the above polarisation of views over the status of Scriptural text, I do find myself pretty much "zhōng lì" - "standing in the middle". Unable to follow Dooyeweerd towards his powerful yet enigmatically propositionless Bible. Unable to follow Bahnsen (whose general apologetics I very much appreciate) towards his propositional but neo-Mosaic Bible. So on this matter of the text of Scripture I remain, as I started, most comfortable with the stance of Cornelius Van Til:


   "The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instruction of the Bible from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.
    This view of Scripture, therefore, involves the idea that there is nothing in this universe on which human beings can have full and true information unless they take the Bible into account. We do not mean, of course, that one must go to the Bible rather than to the laboratory if one wishes to study the anatomy of the snake. But if one goes only to the laboratory and not also to the Bible one will not have a full or even true interpretation of the snake...


   A truly Protestant view of the assertions of philosophy and science can be self-consciously true only if they are made in the light of Scripture. Scripture gives definite information of a most fundamental character about all the facts and principles with which philosophy and science deal. For philosophy or science to reject or even ignore this information is to falsify the picture it gives of the field with which it deals.
   This does not imply that philosophy and science must be exclusively dependent upon theology for their basic principles. It implies only that philosophy and science must, as well as theology, turn to Scripture for whatever light it has to offer on general principles and particular facts."

(Cornelius Van Til,
Christian Apologetics, Second Edition, Ed. by Wm Edgar, P & R Publishing, 2003, pp 19, 20, 61)

The import of this discussion for Reformed Christian thinking is huge. For those interested, Dr J. Glenn Friesen provides a very useful summary of Dooyeweerd's view of Scripture
here, including some further consideration of Van Til's "rationalism" (a quote from Van Til voicing concern that on this matter Dooyeweerd for his part veers dangerously towards an "irrationalism": "If this idea of dunamis is not to lead us into a Kantian sort of noumenal, then it must be based upon the spoken Word, full of thought-content...." ).

Conundrum: how to critique, without being accused of "rationalism", that of which nothing can be said. A new Zen koan for you,
grasshopper! 



15. Icy Water

I have been upbeat about certain facets of Zen. There are of course negatives in Zen as there are in all human enterprises, and not least in those which neglect to honour the Creator. Let us review some of the misgivings. Historically, the relentless negation of logic and of rational differentiation, as reflected, for example, in the koans could (cf book by Lit-sen Chang quoted below) result in the mental collapse of the Zen seeker. "Enlightenment" and nervous breakdown could be precariously synonymous. The logophobic shock tactics of Zen "Masters' (i e slapping and hitting the questioner, even to the point of breaking limbs) could be arbitrary, cynical, and bordering on the insane. There was also an iconoclastic bibliophobia. There can be an ethical vacuum within which certain virtues are simply asserted arbitrarily (cf again Sartre's existentialism). And fundamentally inimical to the Bible, as referred to above, there is the trait (Zen or Buddhist or both?) towards an absolute cosmic subjectivism and nihilism.

Nonetheless, despite these grave reservations, Zen seems (paradoxically?) to have an exceptional facility for engendering an enhanced sense of concrete reality, of the cosmic worth of the here and now (however "mundane" the moment), of the supremacy of simplicity, all of which seem holistic and healthy, Biblical indeed, and which has led to art (visual and verbal) of stunning refinement. I thus clearly favour a continued sympathetic Calvinist critique of Zen in order to elucidate the "common grace" wisdom in this Eastern tradition. For some chauvinist reason we find little difficulty in justifying analysis of atheistic Western philosophy. In fact Calvinist thinkers have persuaded us that it is our responsibilty to do so, and that it would be to our impoverishment and enfeeblement not to.

So let us heed Calvin when he tells us that we are supposed to seek out and benefit from such wisdom as the Holy Spirit has seen fit to bestow on misbelievers: 


"Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the giver. How then can we deny that truth must have beamed on those ancient lawgivers who arranged civil order and discipline with so much equity? Shall we say that the philosophers, in their exquisite researches and skilful description of nature, were blind? Shall we deny the possession of intellect to those who drew up rules of discourse, and taught us to speak in accordance with reason? Shall we say that those who, by the cultivation of the medical art, expended their industry on our behalf were only raving? What shall we say of the mathematical sciences? Shall we deem them to be the dreams of madmen? Nay, we cannot read the writings of the ancients on these subjects without the highest admiration; an admiration which their excellence will not allow us to withhold. But shall we deem anything to be noble and praiseworthy, without tracing it to the hand of God? Far from us be such ingratitude; an ingratitude not chargeable even on heathen poets, who acknowledged that philosophy and laws, and all useful arts were the inventions of the gods. Therefore, since it is manifest that men whom the Scriptures term ‘carnal’ are so acute and clear-sighted in the investigation of inferior things, their example should teach us how many gifts the Lord has left in possession of human nature, notwithstanding its having been despoiled of the true good....

Nor is there any ground for asking what concourse the Spirit can have with the ungodly, who are altogether alienated from God. For what is said as to the Spirit dwelling in believers only, is to be understood of the Spirit of holiness, by which we are consecrated to God as temples. Notwithstanding this, he fills, moves and invigorates all things by virtue of the Spirit, and that according to the peculiar nature which each class of beings has received by the Law of Creation. But if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth
(Institutes 2:2:15-16) (Back to Section 7)

However, in marked contrast to my enthusiasm, a bucket of decidedly icy water is surely poured on the idea that there are any positives in Zen by Lit-sen Chang in his relentlessly anti-Zen book called
"Zen-Existentialism: The Spiritual Decline of the West", (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969) -


"...since the beginning of this (20th) century, Zen has had a profound impact on the West, especially among the intellectuals. Even God's own people are misled and intoxicated. They are fascinated with the spirit of Zen and think they have found the very key to unlock their problems. R.H. Blyth contends that "Zen is the most precious possession of Asia" and even feels that "it is today the strongest power in the world." (R.H. Blyth: Zen in English literature and Oriental Classics ) But, after all, what is Zen? The author, a former advocate of Zen, speaking from his own bitter experiences, believes it an utter fraud, only an avenue of pseudo-escape. It is not only religiously and logically unsound, but psychologically and socially detrimental. Zen is a "technique by which to achieve a mental breakdown." The so-called "satori" is simply "the final critical collapse under the accumulative pressures of stress." It is "a mental catastrophe," "a piling up of intellectual frustrations that lead to the crumbling of the edifice of logical thought." Although it is labeled as "the way of liberation," it is rather a cult of iconoclasm, a disastrous surrender to Nihilism, a kind of mystical "self-intoxication"; "a childish dependence upon magical omnipotence," a ridiculous substitution of "firecracker-propelled garbage cans for space rockets," (Griffis: Religion in Japan , Reischauer: Studies of Buddhism , Ernest Becker: Zen: A Rational Critic) a suicidal approach of "mind-murder" as induced by "doctrines of devils." (1Tim 4:1)
 
Well, we can't say we haven't been warned....



16. In Closing...

Ecclesiastes is astounding in many ways. How could the following words be inspired by the Holy Spirit? -

      
"Meaningless! Meaningless!"
says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless!" (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NIV)
  
So was the writer of Ecclesiastes just some vagrant nihilist who gatecrashed the Biblical "ceilidh"? It may surprise some to note that it is Paul himself in the New Testament who most echos these words from Ecclesiastes. Compare the quote from Romans at the opening of this essay:


 "For the Creation was subjected to futility/ frustration/ decay/ meaninglessness..." (Rom 8:20)

Ecclesiastes uses the observed therapeutic cyclic patterns of nature as a solace from the turmoil of fretful speculation - a lesson Job also learned. Zen exponents would be comfortable enough with the following sepia snapshot of the human condition, I think -


 "Vanity (Absurdity, Frustration, Futility, Nonsense, Meaninglessness) of vanities," says the Preacher; "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." *[but see note below]
 
        What profit has a man from all his labor
        In which he toils under the sun?
        One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
        But the earth abides forever.
        The sun also rises, and the sun goes down,
        And hastens to the place where it arose.
        The wind goes toward the south,
        And turns around to the north;
        The wind whirls about continually,
        And comes again on its circuit.
        All the rivers run into the sea,
        Yet the sea is not full;
        To the place from which the rivers come,
        There they return again.
        All things are full of labor;
        Man cannot express it." (Ecclesiastes 1:2-8)

And Calvinists would be sanguine enough regarding the following Zen mindset at least -

 
"The winter night was so cold that Tanka took the wooden Buddha of the monastery, chopped it into pieces and lit a bonfire to keep himself warm".
 
Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh.


*[“Fleeting transience (הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים hevel havalim),” says Kohelet, “All is fleeting”."Transience" as the only appropriate translation of הֲבֵל hevel here is persuasively argued in an insightful online Jewish article by Ethan Dor-Shav entitled Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and Timeless (2004). The link from Dor-Shav's own blog subtitles the article (with surely a fair degree of over-statement) as "Buddhist teachings of King Solomon". As I read the essay I was reminded of Dooyeweerd's insistence that nothing temporal has meaning in itself. That all meaning flows from the eternal LORD. That temporal experience thus becomes meaningful only as we transcendently offer it to the eternal LORD via our supratemporal hearts: "I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts" (Eccles. 3:11). As Abel (הבל /Hevel/Breath/Transience), prefiguring the Good Shepherd, was the first to exemplify (Gen 4:4).

"This means that in the Christian experience the religious fullness of meaning remains bound up with temporal reality. Every spiritualistic view which wants to separate self-knowledge and the knowledge of God from all that is temporal, runs counter to the Divine order of the creation. Such spiritualism inevitably leads to an internally empty idealism, or to a confused kind of mysticism, in spite of its own will or intentions.
     In the order of this life - that of the life beyond is still hidden from us as to its positive nature - all human experience remains bound to a perspective horizon in which the transcendent light of eternity must force its way through time. In this horizon we become aware of the transcendent fulness of the meaning of this life only in the light of the Divine revelation refracted through the prism of time. For this reason Christ, as the fulness of God's Revelation,
came into the flesh; and for this reason also the Divine Word-revelation came to us in the temporal garb of human language."(Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company 1969 Vol. II, p. 561).]

__________________________________________________________
See also the strongly critical:
       
              
Zen and the Art of Not Knowing God by Stephen H. Short

              
Zen: A Trinitarian Critique by Rev. Ralph Allan Smith