Huineng & Bruce Lee Point to the Moon

Monkey reflection moon paintingThe nun and Chan master Wujin asked Huineng to explain passages of the Nirvana Sutra that she still couldn’t understand after long years of study.  Huineng asked Wujin to read the passages to him, as he never learned to read.  Wujin asked him how he understands the sutra without reading it, and Huineng famously replied that we can use a finger to point to the moon in the sky but don’t need a finger to see it.  Bruce Lee uses this to teach his student in the beginning of Enter the Dragon, telling his student to feel, not think, as if he focuses on the finger he will miss the moon and all its glory.  For Huineng, the sutra points to the experience, and for Lee the thought points to the action.  In both cases, experience in action is the point, not pointing to them.

Buddha & Descartes, Thought & Thinker

The opening lines of the Dhammapada, the collected sayings of the Buddha, read:

We are what we think.  All that we are arisBuddha Statue Taiwanes with our thoughts.  With our thoughts we make the world.  Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart… Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakable.

Speaking and acting are the two ways one uses one’s mind to draw trouble or happiness from the world.  This fits with Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein, who said that when we speak, our words are our thoughts, with no separation between speaking and thinking.  The same applies to acts.  Perhaps all thinking is rooted in speaking and acting.  Perhaps picturing something in the head is rooted in the experience of looking, moving one’s eyes, head, neck and body such that a thing comes into view.

Descartes statueDescartes famously wrote, “I think, therefore I am”.  Both Buddha and Descartes reason that if there is thinking, then there is a thinker, but they see this relationship in opposite ways.

For Buddha, the thinking is the coming into existence of the thinker, such that there is no thinker without thought making it so.  The thinking causes the thinker to be a particular thing.

For Descartes, the thinking is evidence of the thinker, leading to the conclusion that there exists a thinker prior to and independent of the thinking.