Repeating A Lesson in Emptiness: Making Your Cake and Eating It Too

Joshu, a novice monk in a Zen monastery, was feeling hungry for some cake. He went to the abbott to ask for permission. Normally, the abbott wouldn’t allow such indulgence, but instead he said to Joshu that he could, if he followed the abbott’s recipe. Joshu agreed to this term, and went with the abbott to retrieve the recipe.

When the abbott gave Joshu the recipe, he quickly scanned it to get a feel for what kind of cake it would be. It had all the standard ingredients for a white cake of some sort, except one of the ingredients was listed as “cake.” Joshu respectfully pointed out the strange ingredient, and asked how this could be. The abbott cheerfully replied that it must have been a mistake, and crossed it out. “You can make it now,” he said.

Joshu thanked the abbott and proceeded to the kitchen, still confused as to how cake could appear on the recipe. When he went through the recipe, mentally checking off the ingredients as he used them, he finally got to the crossed-out “cake,” and it occurred to him again what the abbott said before he left: you can make it now; cake is possible only without “cake.”


Good Question

Where are we aware of the breath; when (and) does that awareness end? It is the essential object of zazen because it is the living object, the object whose extent is the co-dependence of birth and death. Try it in reverse, which sounds a bit more awkward: when are we aware of the breath; where (and) does that awareness end? In this moment; its end is not external, but internal to what it is – impermanence, emptiness, Hegel’s “night-of-the-world,” the Cartesian-Lacanian subject.

Traversing the Fantasy: Where Do I Go?

If we follow Descartes, we cannot be certain of things “outside” the mind, which are otherwise “objectively present,” though the subjective content of the mind qua mind is minimally certain. Cogito ergo sum. 

How is it that I know I am not psychotic, then, if the only content of my mind to speak of appears to me as objectively present? In other words, where is the minimal distance that separates truth from illusion, real from unreal, inside from outside?

Let’s make it clear by thinking of how people usually talk about The Matrix. They talk about being-in-the-Matrix as being different from being-not-in-the-Matrix, or rather, the kind of being of being-in-the-Matrix is different from the kind of being of being-not-in-the-Matrix. Where/what is the difference, but more difficultly where am I going when I traverse the fantasy of that difference?

UPDATE: Being-not-in-the-Matrix is, as far as I’m concerned, an absurd way to talk. Rather, for the sake of having a coherent sense of the world, we should talk about not-being-in-the-Matrix. There is a structural ambiguity here though: how are we to understand the difference between NOT being-in-the-Matrix and NOT-BEING (that is) in-the-Matrix? Is this difference simply a replay of the one I already considered. If the difference alludes you, think of at least two different ways to understand “he saw her with binoculars.” If that alludes you, you’re on the wrong blog.

Losing Reality

When someone goes through some kind of acute psychosis, like schizophrenia or some species of delusion or paranoia, we often say “they’ve lost touch with reality.” How do we speak for them in this way when it implies we are certain of our being “in touch with” reality just as much as they are even when we tell them what they see or hear or anticipate is not real?

Often enough psychotics are treated enough or are not so “lost” that they can talk about their experience as unreal, but acting that way still seems beyond them. Below this threshold, psychotics will often act and talk about their experience as real, despite protestations and even physical intervention. What is our epistemic model in science and liberal democracy more than the consensus of empirical facts?

Such a model seems to function in a way that by definition exclude the psychotic’s gesture to being “in touch with reality,” which means the consensus model of knowledge functions by virtue of its lack of consensus, since it lacks the psychotic’s agreement with their interpretation of reality. Lacan will say that the psychotic break occurs when they encounter the name-of-the-father in the real, which in practical terms is when they receive an interpretation that they hear as outside their own from someone occupying or otherwise speaking from the place of the Symbolic Father. In their attempt to patch over this hole they poked in their world, they resist what is in more Heidegerrian terms a revelation of Being offered from an Other. We experience that as the psychotic losing reality, while they also talk as if its precisely reality that they are saving. However, we agree that this is an example of “losing touch with reality” only on the basis of agreement, which is always already impossible so long as the psychotic refuses to agree with the revelation of Being we offer them.

Chuang-Tzu was all over this 2000 years ago when he asked the brilliant question of how he know’s he’s not a butter-fly dreaming he’s Chuang-Tzu or the other way around