Crazy Wisdom Lessons from Wes Scoop Nisker
Wes Scoop Nisker’s The Essential Crazy Wisdom is an incredible vision of extensive grocking of the crazy wisdom emanating from this planet’s cultures. I am always amazed by the number of quotes of enlightened folks one encounters in his book. I am dedicating a new series of sacred mischief columns to this, a series of lessons that encompass both random book openings as well as passages that inspire me
from page 54 in the first edition-Crazy Wisdom-The Eastern Crazy Wisdom Poets’ Society
Hotai came along to proclaim that you can be enlightened and still have a belly laugh. You can have great realizations of suffering and emptiness and yet emerge a playful, joyous fat ma who drinks a little wine now and then and would rather play hide and seek with children all day than chant sutras with a bunch of old monks in a stifling hot temple. The great enlightened crazy wisdom of the formal Buddhist path is just not crazy enough for some. In Zen and the Cosmic Spirit, Conrad Hyers writes:
According to lend Ho-tai ( the laughing Buddha) refused the designation of Zen master, as a well as monastic restriction, and instead walked the streets with his sack over his shoulder, giving gifts to children.
The Laughing Buddha symbolizes an entire subculture of crazy wisdom artists, the wandering poet-seekers of China and Japan, many of whom were also Taoist or Zen Buddhist monks. This spiritual-poetic subculture spans centuries and includes some of the finest Asian writers and artists. They were usually great lovers of nature and wild places, and many of them became wanderers, living shunned official religious institutions, as well as the business of ordinary people, and chose to live free, practicing only their art and the art of liberation.
Abandon this fleeting world, abandon yourself,
Then the moon and flowers will guide you along the Way.
the conclusion of Chapter 4, comparing the holy fools of East and West. Then a couple of choice Rumi quotes from earlier in the chapter.
Rumi and the Baal Shem Tov typify the holy fool of the West: a lover of all life, especially those in need; empty of knowledge and self but full of God. The Western holy fools’ in a supernatural deity distinguishes them from the Taoist or Zen masters, with their nontheistic grounding in the the natural world. The Eastern holy fools find unity with all things through a cool, detached acceptance, while the Western approach was one of passionate love for creation as the manifestation of God.
The holy fools of both East and West come to their own realizations, but they do not ask us to believe them. Instead, they respond to our questions with further questions or with riddles and parables. Often these holy fools teach crazy wisdom just by being themselves. If we watch closely, we might learn from them how to live, with simple acceptance of, and even great lover for, life.
Rumi sees all phenomena, including the self, as transitory expressions of a divine intelligence. With that understanding, he finds great love and acceptance for the way things are: the one cosmic dance.
Give up owning things and being somebody. Quit existing.
Think of how PHENOMENA come trooping
out of the Desert of Non-existence
into this materiality
Morning and night,
they arrive in a long line and take over
from each other, ” It’s my turn now. Get out!”
A son comes of age, and the father packs up.
This place of phenomena is a wide exchange
of highways, with everything going all sorts
of different ways.
We seem to be sitting still,
but we’re actually moving, and the Fantasies
of Phenomena are sliding through us
like ideas through curtains,
They go to the well
of deep love inside each of us.
They fill their jars there, and they leave
There is a source they come from
and a fountain inside here.
Be grateful. Confess when you’re not.
We can’t know
what the Divine Intelligence
has in mind!
Who am I,
standing in the midst of this
Eastern holy fools, who sometimes refer to the mind as “the wild monkey,” have invented many exercises to tame it . They created and refined certain techniques of meditation in order to study themselves and discover ways to become free from mental and emotional conditioning.
The West has tended to rely on observational rather than experiential studies of the human condition. WE focus our microscopes on cells and subatomic particles, observe rats and chimpanzees and extrapolate to our own situation or set up experiments in which one group of humans studies another. These methods lead us to what could be called informative knowledge, but not transformative knowledge-not wisdom. The spiritual teacher Ram Dass describes the difference this way:
You can either be wise or you can know knowledge. But you can’t know wisdom, you have to “be” it. Wisdom has simplicity to it. What the spiritual path offers is a way to come back into balance, to develop out intuition and wisdom of our heart, so that the intellect is no longer the master, but instead is the servant of our heart…the part of us that brings us into unity with ourselves and all other beings.
In most types of meditation, one must first break through the rational, analytic mode of understanding. One way of doing this is to throw the rational mind an impossible question called a koan (in Chinese kung an), a riddle meant to short circuit all logical connections. The method, referred to as “using poison against poison,” frustrates the thinking mind until it breaks down. The answer to any koan lies in letting go of the desire to understand it logically. On some level, the answer to any koan riddle is “I don’t know.”The koan teaches what Alan Watts called “the wisdom of insecurity”-how to live with doubt and even embrace it. With the koan we learn to have questions without needing answers.
Zen practice is said to have 1,700 koans. Three of the most famous are: “What is the sound of hone hand clapping?” “If everything returns to the One, to what does the One return?” ” Does a dog have Buddha nature?” WE could just as well combine the three koans into one and ask ” What is the sound of one dog returning to the One?” If you bark, you get thirty blows with the staff.
#4 . Right Brain. Left Brain
from Chapter 8. the Right Mind
What we need is a good five-cent synthesis.
Modern science may have discovered the seat of crazy wisdom-the right hemisphere of our cerebral cortex. Recent research has found that the human brain’s two hemispheres tend to have separate functions and modes of operation. the left hemisphere seems to be in charge of logic, mathematics, and ordinary language activities, while the right controls kiesthesis, artistic sensibility spatial judgment. The left hemisphere is the business center, the place where we work to survive. The right hemisphere is existential, the place where we live and love. The left gets us where we are going, the right puts us in touch with where we are.
Long before we understood the function of each hemisphere, it was recognized that people have at least two modes of understanding. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes called one mode “directed” and the other “free.” Indian spiritual teacher Radhakrishanan called one “rational” and the other “integral>” French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss referred to one as “positive” and the other as “mythic.” A graphic and poetic description of the “two minds” appears in the second-century Indian Buddhist text, the Lankavatara Sutra:
The discriminating mind is a dancer and a magician
with the objective world as his stage. Intuitive mind is the
wise jester who travels with the magician and reflects upon
his emptiness and transiency.
The left hemisphere is the utilitarian brain-the opposable thumb of the mind. It receives and orders information, analyzes the world, gives out names (dog, god, grass, open, gone), and arranges sensory input in familiar patterns. The left hemisphere is an information processor, working bit by bit in a linear, sequential manner.
The right hemisphere’s primary function is synthesis, seeing relationships between things and providing an overview. The right hemisphere has been called holistic in its vision and intuitive in its operation. This part of the brain connects the dots….but doesn’t count them.
One key to understanding the right hemisphere can be found in association with music and poetry. Some studies have shown that people with left-hemisphere brain damage who have lost most of the ir language ability can still use words, but only to sing songs that they learned before the damage. Other patients start writing and speaking in poetry for the first time.
The right hemisphere seems to control awareness of the body. Patients with right-hemisphere brain damage are sometimes unable to dress themselves, though their speech and reasoning abilities are intact. Perhaps one of the functions of the right brain is to bring us down from the abstract world of words and ideas and to put us back into our bodies, giving us a sense of our physical presence on the earth.
Our culture’s ontological prejudice is obvious from the attitude of medical science toward brain injuries. If only the right hemisphere is damaged and no injury has occurred to language or logic functions, doctors often consider it “minor” brain damage. Perhaps the heavy emphasis on analysis during medical school has left some doctors a bit lopsided, understanding the brain primarily through their own left hemispheres. As Robert Onstein states in his classic study, The Psychology of Consciousness, this lopsidedness has broader and more disturbing implications:
….the development of a hyperanalytic, “rational” science, unchecked by a comprehensive understanding born of intuition, can develop into the destruction of all on the planet.
It is obvious that something is not working properly. How else can we explain our mismanagement of resources and our own population, the pollution and destruction of our environment, or the mass murder of our own species? We cannot see the bigger picture and how we fit into it. We are no longer in our bodies; we are not in our right mind. Onstein see the problem this way:
A shift toward a comprehensive consciousness of the interconnectedness of life, toward a relinquishing of the “every man for himself” attitude inherent in our ordinary construction of consciousness, might enable us to take those :selfless” steps that could begin to solve our collective problems. Certainly our culture has too severely emphasized the development of only one way of organizing reality.
Perhaps the crises threatening humanity in the late twentieth (and now early 21st) arise from simple functional imbalance, an unequal distribution of strength between the brain’s left and right hemispheres. Maybe we need a little electrical work, a rewiring of the cerebral circuits. Maybe exercising the right hemisphere through techniques such as meditation (or development of intuition, or exposure to art, and nature) might bring us to true sanity or consciousness, and a more integrated way of living.
from chapter 9.
That the world is, is the mystical. LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN
It should be clear by now that an essential ingredient of crazy wisdom is perspective-the understanding bon of multiple views and multiple truths. Furthermore, the spark that keeps moving crazy wisdom from point of view to point of view is a basic attitude of doubt. As Voltaire stated, “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”
Of course, many see doubt as a negative state, a continual restlessness or frowning skepticism. But on just the other side of doubt lies wonder, the feeling that comes from having an empty head and an open heart. A sense of wonder seems to be another key that unlocks the door to crazy wisdom and keeps it swinging open. Albert Einstein embraced the wonder that plays such a crucial role in all realms of life:
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whosoever does no know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed.
The Hindu teacher Swami Mukktananda was once asked why he didn’t work miracles. He replied, “I have no need to work miracles. The circulation of blood through my body is enough.”
Holy Fools are often awed by the world. Perhaps this comes from knowing how little they know. The mystery is simultaneously humbling and inspiring…..
Perhaps the ultimate statement of crazy wisdom wonder comes from a book written in the second century B.C. in India, called The Flower Ornament Scripture. The mystery of existence has never been expressed in more detail than in this immense Mahayana Buddhist scripture. The book opens by using the near, mathematical mind and then leads us beyond the limits of calculation into mythic realms. For example, in one sequence the Buddha tries to explain how many numbers and how many worlds are known to him. The Buddha talks about quantities that far exceed our present estimate of the number of atoms in the universe. The Buddha begins calculating like this: ” Ten to the tenth power times ten to the tenth power equals ten to the twentieth power…” This calculating goes on for several full pages……
#6 The Holy Fools
….from chapter 2, The Cast.
None attains to the Degree of Truth until a thousand honest people have testified that he is a heretic.
JUNAID OF BAGHDAD, SUFI
The holy fools arise from the spiritual subcultures, the esoteric and mystical underground of the world’s great religious traditions. They know a different reality than the rest of us and live every moment in accordance with their understanding, no matter what the cost. They are divine madmen. Among the better known are Lao Tzu, Buddha, and Christ-all challengers of conventional truth, all masters. Although today it may seem inappropriate to label these holy men “fools,” they probably were called that in their own time. Certainly more people though them foolish than wise. Lao Tzu, if he existed at all, was a crazy visionary poet who reputedly turned down good jobs with the king in order to live secluded in the mountains. In the important circles of court and city life they probably laughed when Lao Tzu’s name or ideas were mentioned.
Gautama, the Buddha, was no doubt viewed as just one of the more popular cult leaders of his time. He set up communal dwellings in the forest where he taught his followers to reject ordinary worldly pursuits and to replace them with an odd-sounding doctrine called “the middle path.” If the Buddha were alive and teaching today many parents would certainly arrange to have their children kidnapped from his community and deprogrammed.
In his own time, Jesus was considered a kook. He became a hero among the poor because he ministered to them and dared to challenge the authority of church and state, but respectable people probably saw him as a scruffy, wandering street person. Not only was Jesus labeled a fool, he sometimes accepted the role, and deliberately “played the fool” as part of his radical protests.
Many eastern sages called themselves fools; their acceptance of the label is a key to their crazy wisdom. Chuang Tzu says that the one who knows he is a fool “is not the biggest fool.” Lao Tzu boasts “others are sharp and clever, but I alone am dull and stupid.”
The holy fools are found in two distinct streams of crazy wisdom. In one, Taoists and Zen masters learn to ride the currents and surrender to the flow. They become friends with insecurity, making doubt their guide and each moment their god. In the other stream, visionaries like Christ or the Sufi poet Rumi pass through doubt into the certainty of their own uncommon visions and lose themselves in love of God or the oceanic Oneness, living thereafter in an altered state.
An image crosses the heart: “Return to your origin.” The heart flutters all around and away from the world of colours and perfumes, clamoring: “Wherefore the Origin?” while tearing apart its adornments, because of it’s love.
Holy fools see through the veils of illusion to the unity of all existence. When Jesus proclaims he is the son of God, he is saying that we are all children of God, all emanating from the same divine source. So too, the Taoist or Zen master understands that all things are one, and our separate “selves” are just a painful illusion To the most radical sages, even the simple act of naming is a habit that falsely separates us from the rest of creation.
Holy fools agree that false identification with the “self” fosters fear, hatred, and greed, which in turn result in violence and war. Consequently, holy fools usually live simply or in voluntary poverty. They believe that wealth builds up the self and too many possessions block the path to unity.
Identification with the poor almost inevitably forces the holy fool into the role rebel, leading populist movements that shake up the existing political and spiritual orders. State and church tend to scratch each other’s backs, and when you challenge one you threaten the other. The greatest of holy fools have been out of favor with the priesthood and often in trouble with the law.
Gautama, the Buddha, broke away from Hinduism to demonstrate that truth was not the exclusive realm of Brahman priests and that salvation had nothing to do with caste, rituals, or offerings. The Buddha taught that anyone could practice liberation and achieve it….
A few more choice quotes from the chapter…
A rabbi whose congregation does not want to drive him out of town isn’t a rabbi.
The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
THIRD ZEN PATRIARCH
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich maN to enter into the kingdom of God.
JESUS OF NAZARETH
In singing and dancing is the voice of the law.
ZEN MASTER HAKUIN
God has no religion.