What is the difference between Zen & Advaita Vedanta?
I’m really not that much of a spiritual geek to have enough knowledge to write about the Zen and Advaita, or, frankly, do I have any interest in the fine differences. I deal in whole cloth not the minutia of the different threads in the non-dual traditions.
In the whole cloth there is no difference between the two. To find a difference is to turn the non-dual into the dual.
So this would be like killing the butterfly in order to understand it. We need a metaphor.
Why would I ask the spider to write about the web when the spider can only spin a web?
The spider and the web are the same, so for the spider to write about the web the spider would have to get outside of himself, get out of his non-dual self and create a dual self, the spider and the web.
For me Zen is the action of the spider and the web as a One that is two, both at the same time, yet separate. As I write here I’m spinning my web, the One that is Two.
I am aware of the words spinning, spinning, and somehow they come out in a design that, while I know I’m creating it I don’t know what it is going to be.
There is great liberation in being the spider as the web and the web as the spider because it removes the dilemma of choice.
Lets spin this idea out. When the spider spins the web, there is no should I write this word or that, should I put the web here or there, scratching my head over which way to go.
There is no fear when the spider is the web because there is choice that calculates which is the better choice.
Choice is fear based, future based. One wants to choose the best future so one weighs the choices.
And yet, when it comes to the design of the web, if the spider had to choose on the fly (no pun intended), there would be no design because each thread would depend on the past.
When he was done, there would be no geometric design. The geometrical design of the web is transcendent to the web, but the spider does not know it, yet the design of idea pulls the web’s design out of him.
Instead of pushing him from the past, the design pulls him from the future, but the future doesn’t exist because nothing is projecting into it from the past.
So where does that design come from?
Did the spider have an image in his mind and duplicates that image with each careful placement of thread?
Does the past known create the future?
Not in Zen.
I have no idea where this web of words is going. It comes out of my Not Knowing.
So this writing is not pushing me; it’s pulling me.
What is this not-knowing of the writer and the spider?
Is this where Zen and Advaita come from, its source in this emptiness. I don’t know. Zen and Advaita are knowns, and the known is the past stored in memory.
The spider does not know from where the web comes.
And I really don’t care, actually. Not-Knowing is always in the moment—well, no in the moment but it is the moment— yet if we try to know it, it is gone.
It’s like the back of a hospital gown. No matter how fast you turn around, it is always gone.
For me Zen is not a philosophy, not even a tradition, and certainly not a religion, yet one could say it’s all that.
The Zen masters talk about Zen being a practice, not a noun but a verb, an action. Could action itself be Not-Knowing.
Not-Knowing is spontaneous.
Is there a hidden web or design in spontaneous action?
Is there a hidden intelligence waiting like oil to be tapped?
Are there two kinds of action?
There is creative action and there is conditioned action, or the action of choice that comes from the known, that past. In the conditioned something must be either this or that.
All things are divided into this or that by the rules of our logic.
Yet, Zen refuses to divide.
Zen holds back from the knowing that something is this or that.
Zen refuses to name anything this or that, so Zen does not choose. Zen, therefore, makes no sense because it is not logical. Logic need choice between either/or. This is science, and we need this logic to make stuff, but we can’t understand the spider with it.
So I can’t draw distinctions between Zen and Advaita. For all I know I’m describing Advaita instead of Zen. Both are non-dual, which means beyond choice which is dual, or transcendent of choice.
One can’t say beyond, above, behind or before choice because that two is also choice.
Which is it?
Looks like a Zen Koan.
Choice and the known can’t penetrate this paradox.
The problem is also what we mean by the Question. Does the question look for a choice, for a path one must choose, for more evidence, for some sign or signal from the coach?
The Question that has no answer is the portal to the non-dual, to the secret of the Spider.
When we go to a movie we suspend choice, don’t we?
It’s called suspension of disbelief, which means that I cannot enter into the movie reality unless I suspend my reality of choice.
Do I want popcorn with or without butter?
I suspend the chooser when the lights of the theater go out. This is why we love movies. We surrender that weight of choice and the responsibility of the chooser and let the movie do us.
Movies are like an amusement park ride. The movie carries us all the way through to its end.
So what are the threads being spun here?
Is there a web, or just a bunch of words with no design?
Is there a design if there is no choice, no captain directing the ship?
I think here is where our language and grammar get in the way. Our language assumes that reality is something (nouns) doing things (verbs) to objects (another noun).
But in the spider metaphor there is no spider spinning a web, and yet there is. The non-dual view is that that spider and the web are one action.
The dual view, which is our common sense reality, is that the spider (a noun) spins (verb) a web (direct object).
When we look at the spider objectively, there is two. I know the spider objectively through my language which is thought, the known, and the past. When I AM the spider, there is One. I need poetry to describe this.
So here is a way I bridge the unbridgeable canyon between non-dual and dual. The non-dual cannot be known, but one can BE non-dual when choice and the Chooser and our logical grammar have been suspended. One needs a good metaphor as the bridge over our grammar. Je Suis the Spider. That is a metaphor.
I am the spider; but I am also not the Spider. The One that is Two. The One is non-dual; the Two is dual. Human consciousness is non-dual/dual…ambiguous. But ambiguity is the terror of not being able to choose this or that, and to have no fixed point for the maintenance of sanity.
Without choice there is no chooser. Choosing and the Chooser (the self as a noun) rise together as subject and object.
There is no fixed point. There is a fixed point. This ambiguity is Not Knowing. Ambiguity is not knowing.
And Not Knowing is action or a verb without a subject that knows. There is just the doing, just the writing, just the spinning without concern with what one is doing. This is freedom. This is play. The Spider plays at making webs. Life is Play…and Zen and Advaita must be play, the play of the cosmos.
So I can’t write this piece about the fine distinctions between Zen and Advaita. I’m not an expert.
Written by: Ed Conley