“If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.”
There is a natural state to everything, and really that is what Zen is all about, returning to our natural state. In returning to our natural state we are also aware of ubiquitous impermanence. With nothing being permanent, this quote may seem to contradict that sentiment by saying things are just as they are whether or not we understand. What are we to understand? How are things anyhow?
The quote drills straight to the core of Zen beliefs by saying all things remain as they are whether or not we are aware of them and whether or not we are awakened or enlightened. This is not the same as saying they always remain as those things. Instead their tendencies do not change based on our views, thoughts, or beliefs. If those things have a tendency to always change, that will remain true whether or not we are awakened to this truth.
In Zen we say there is no absolute truth, only what we observe. Why do we have sutras, the four noble truths, and other such “dogma” if there is such irreverence to the written word in Zen? I’m not sure, but I can say for myself it wasn’t until I read some of these words that I starting thinking differently about myself and the world around me. Some of my favorite words had to do with not regarding any words as wisdom but to see for our self. So if we are to read those words, and say they are not true because it isn’t coherent with what we have observed or believe, then it is still truth.
Is there absolute truth then? If that statement is always true, then isn’t it an absolute truth? No, because it isn’t really saying anything at all. That is like saying “write why writing is pointless”. Every word you write is contradicting what you are writing. That is not absolute truth, it is more of a suggestion for people to try and doesn’t work for everyone anyhow.
All I can say is that written words of Zen masters have caused us to think differently. However, one of their greatest teachings is that once you learn to think and observe differently, then discover for yourself the world around you and become enlightened on your own. You cannot follow the path of another to become enlightened. If we keep reading words thinking that act alone is the only way to become enlightened, it is foolish. It is for this reason alone that we may read words to learn how to observe differently, but must go observe on our own.
When we observe, it is as important to observe our own minds and bodies as it is the world around us. The ultimate truth will reveal itself to apply to the smallest particle as well as the farthest reaches of the grand universe or universes.