Dr. James Austin on the source of Zen

There is no more clear or more succinct statement of my “beyond religion” thesis then this one from James Austin’s Zen and the Brain, This must be what all contemplative traditions have bee trying to keep alive. Before philosophy became an academic word game, natural philosophy was trying to articulate this universal principle. It is, ¬†believe, what Spinoza must have been referring to in his monistic philosophy, asserting that body and mind are two attributes of the same substance.

Dr. Austin begins this passage by touching lightly on the four worlds of our ordinary experience-perceptual, emotional, rational, and intuitive. But he says, the Zen tradition comes from a fifth, transpersonal worlds:

Is there another dimension beyond all these- a fifth, tranpersonal world? The early masters thought so. Indeed, Huang-Po believed that enlightenment was our open access into this universal mind. Those less sure today may still find Siu’s concept interesting. He views this dimension as the universe of sage knowledge. No boundaries constrain this world. It extends infinitely beyond what a single brain can either imagine about itself or can project into nature. Indeed, sage knowledge in intrinsic to all nature. It is nature’s essence shared intimately by one and all. Some readers may be more comfortable thinking about this fifth dimension as a ‘Great Self’, a kind of earthly Mother Nature projected on a cosmic scale. Still others use different words to describe it such as Buddha nature, or they conceive it as the highest, universal principle.

Rational knowledge can bring us intellectually in tune with the facts of scientific mankind. And ordinary intuitive knowledge can then go a step further so that we include in our scope the totality of mankind. But sage knowledge is the profound comprehension that all our atoms resonate in their oneness with all other forms of stardust everywhere in the universe. Sage knowledge then is a kind of self articulation of the Ultimate Reality itself. This is where Zen appears to be coming from. Within this fifth dimension, our levels of human awareness and those of the ontological unfolding of reality will correspond so intimately with each other, stage by stage, that they may be thought of as ultimately constituting one and the same process. [page 52, Zen and the Brain]


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