Form and emptiness

One more key concept of Mahayana Buddhism must be touched on here, a concept that is crucial to Lin-chi’s entire doctrine. This is the concept of shunyata — emptiness, or nondualism. Mahayana Buddhism in its writings manifests a profound distrust of words, insisting that the highest truth or reality can never be formulated or conveyed through verbal teachings, and Ch’an masters will be found repeatedly harping on this theme. When Mahayana texts designate the absolute, or highest truth, as emptiness, they mean that it is empty of any characteristics by which we might describe it. This is because it is a single, undifferentiated whole, and the moment we being applying terms to it, we create dualisms that immediately do violence to that unity. Hence even the term emptiness itself must in the end be rejected, since it implies that there is something outside of emptiness that is not empty.

If reality is a single, all-embracing oneness, with nothing whatsoever outside it, then the entire phenomenal world as we know and perceive it, all time and all space, must be included within that unity. In the end, then, the absolute must be synonymous with the relative or phenomenal world; or, as the Heart Sutra puts it, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”

Burton Watson, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-chi, pp. xxi-xxii

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard in contrast

The first to attribute philosophic worth to the individual was Schopenhauer, who in raising the question of the value of the world, viewed the world from the viewpoint of the particular. Nietzsche later followed in his footsteps. His entire thought centers on the significance of human existence; vehemently upholding the value of the individual, he attacks all norms and laws that are outside of the individual. His violent opposition to all previous philosophy is a sharp expression of the basic motive of his atheism. He does not deny God because of theoretical reasons, but because he cannot endure the thought that above him there is a God. The exact opposite of his justification of atheism is Kierkegaard’s justification of faith. Only faith can grant him assurance, because it attaches great importance to the individual and to his sin, and redeems him from it. For Kierkegaard, Hegels’ interpretation of Christianity substitutes man in general for the individual, paying no attention to that which is of prime importance — the individual. He sees this as proof of the failure of the entire philosophic enterprise because philosophy gives no answer to the life-questions of the individual man.

Julius Guttmann, Philosophies of Judaism: The History of Jewish Philosophy from Biblical times to Franz Rosenzweig, pp. 420-1

The usual notion of prayer is so absurd

The usual notion of prayer is so absurd. How can those who know nothing about it, who pray little or not at all, dare speak so frivolously of prayer? A Carthusian, a Trappist will work for years to make of himself a man of prayer, and then any fool who comes along sets himself up as judge of this lifelong effort. If it were really what they suppose, a kind of chatter, the dialogue of a madman with his shadow, or even less — a vain and superstitious sort of petition to be given the good things of this world, how could innumerable people find until their dying day, I won’t even say such great “comfort” — since they put no faith in the solace of the senses — but sheer, robust, vigorous, abundant joy in prayer? Oh, of course “suggestion,” say the scientists. Certainly they can never have known old monks, wise, shrewd, unerring in judgment, and yet aglow with passionate insight, so very tender in their humanity. What miracle enables these semi-lunatics, these prisoners of their own dreams, these sleepwalkers, apparently to enter more deeply each day into the pain of others? An odd sort of dream, an unusual opiate which, far from turning him back into himself and isolating him from his fellows, unites the individual with mankind in the spirit of universal charity!

This seems a very daring comparison. I apologize for having advanced it, yet perhaps it might satisfy many people who find it hard to think for themselves, unless the thought has first been jolted by some unexpected, surprising image. Could a sane man set himself up as a judge of music because he has sometimes touched the keyboard with the tips of his fingers? And surely if a Bach fugue, a Beethoven symphony leave him cold, if he has to content himself with watching on the face of another listener the reflected pleasure of supreme, inaccessible delight, such a man has only himself to blame.

But alas! We take the psychiatrists’ word for it. The unanimous testimony of saints is held as of little or no account. They all affirm that this kind of deepening of the spirit is unlike any other experience, that instead of showing us more and more of our own complexity it ends in sudden total illumination, opening out upon azure light — they can be dismissed with a few shrugs. Yet when has any man of prayer told us that prayer had failed him?

Georges Bernanos, The Diary of a Country Priest

At – one – ment

Cahill seems to think that this is own idea, and it very well may be (to him, at least), but he certainly speaks the historical truth (on the pagan origins of substitution) and the mind of the Fathers (on compassion and the truth of the Atonement):

We do not have to adopt a theology of substitution — the theory that God required a spotless human victim to make up for human sin — to make sense of the crucifixion. Such a theory, it seems to me, is a remnant of prehistoric paganism and its beliefs in cruel divinities who demanded blood sacrifice. But Jesus’s suffering body is surely his ultimate gift, for it is his final act of sympathy with us. From all ages, human suffering has been the stumbling block that no life can avoid and that no philosophy has been able to comprehend. In the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Job, God refuses to explain why good people must suffer. In the New Testament, he still does not explain, but he gives us a new story that contains the first glimmer of encouragement, the only hint of an explanation, that heaven has ever deigned to offer earth: “I will suffer with you.” (Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, pg. 293)