Monday, August 28, 2006

Ke, Ku & Chu (The 3 Truths)

So lately, I've been thinking and reading a lot about the above concept in Nichiren Buddhism. I've been taking an inventory, of sorts, of many things in my life, and figuring out how each item/thing/idea fits into these three truths.

For starters, let me define some terms. Ke(ketai) is defined as the truth of temporary, physical or material existence. Ku(kutai) is defined as the truth of non-substantiality or the spiritual aspect of life. Chu(chutai) is defined as the Middle Way, or that force or energy which binds and harmonizes ketai and kutai. Ke and Ku are two different but inseparable aspects of chu.

In the book I am reading The Buddha in Daily Life - Richard Causton, it states that the three truths are not three separate things but, rather, a means of looking at the entirety of life from three different, though interrelated perspectives. He gives the example of comparing a piece of paper to "our friend John". Side A would represent John's physical appearance which corresponds to ke, Side B would represent John's character which corresponds to ku. However, John's character is only known to you by way of his physical actions, which include: his speech, his gestures, his eyes, and facial expressions etc. So in a sense, you can say that one can only discover the ku of John as it becomes his ke. Each of these, in turn, represent the whole of John's life, which corresponds to chu. Chu is the "essential self" aspect of our life which keeps our physical and spiritual aspects consistent with each other through time. Another way to put it, is Chu is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, or the rhythm and Law of life itself.

So basically, the important point I took from reading this, is in realizing that there is no fundamental distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of life. And we, as humans, are representations of the entire process as it was/is/and will be.

From a bodywork perspective, this has intense implications. If my ku is manifest through my ke, then what does that say about what my mind contains? In what ways do I, or don't I reside in a state of chu - or the essential self/Middle Way? How is my spirit manifesting in my body? The book then goes on to tell the story of a woman who basically, after many months of intense chanting and study, made herself asymptomatic from severe epilepsy. At the end of her "treatment" there were no physical manifestations of epilepsy. In the two years I have been practicing, I have read many stories such as this, as well as experienced variations in my own life.

So back to labeling, sorting, and naming things. I started to think about these processes, and how they are showing up in my daily thoughts, actions, and activities.

I started to wonder about pain. Specifically physical pain, but keep in mind, stress can manifest as physical pain, one can be "worried sick", depression has numerious documented physical manifestations. Therefore, where is the line drawn? Is my neck pain, whose onset was a knarly car accident, and made worse by 4 or 5 surgeries, any different than the types of pain I mention in the previous sentence? Does pain exist on a continuum, or is all pain ke? Or is all pain ku? Pain is felt along neural pathways. This pain impulse can be measured, and quantified. If the types of pain I mention, are indeed, pain, then will we come up with different measurements of this pain based on it's root cause?

I'm not sure if I'm come up with any answers or solutions, but it's very fascinating to think about. I've chanted and cried myself out of intense physical pain, on more than one occasion. Is this me attempting to reside in chu? Or is this a placebo and am I still as deluded as ever? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. I've decided that the more I can observe the transitions, and manifestations of each of these truths in my life, the more capable I will become of letting them move on to whatever dynamic form they will take next.

8 Comments:

Blogger the beige one said...

the answer, of course, is that it is all inter-related, and things flow from all three, and things you do in one field will affect the other two.

6:05 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Chu is, for me, the aspect that most clearly differentiates Buddhism from the early Gnosticism I've been studying (though it's perfectly compatible with Bruno's neo-Gnostic/proto-pantheist stance): it reconciles--and thus refutes--duality.

I agree that these spheres, these "truths" are all interrelated, and each can affect the other. Another lower level . . . I think that it's hard to say that anything is either temporary or permanent. We speak of the temporal/physical/material realm as being "temporary", but matter can and does become energy, and life has a way of endlessly asserting itself in that contiuum. Conversely, nothing exists--not energy, not dark matter, not light--that doesn't eventually become something else. In other words, all things are infinite on a molecular level; but all things will eventually cease to exist in current form. Chu, if looked at from an existential perspective, seems like an acknowledgement that everything ends, only to continue in different form along a different trajectory.

The question of pain is an interesting one, particularly as it relates to your neck. Obviously, physical circumstances surrounding the problem are/were undeniably physical, but I think there's something to the supposition that there are no accidents. Bruce Lee suggested that this interrelation turned physical combat into a communication of truth, so there's already precedent for pain and injury being a reflection of the exploration of that which is.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Stine said...

So Ly, I'm wondering, that if something is reconciled, does it mean that it is most certainly refuted?

Chu, if looked at from an existential perspective, seems like an acknowledgement that everything ends, only to continue in different form along a different trajectory.

- Which is another way of saying that the only constant is change.

Bruce Lee suggested that this interrelation turned physical combat into a communication of truth, so there's already precedent for pain and injury being a reflection of the exploration of that which is.

- I agree. However, in being an exploration of that which is, does that mean that which isacross the 3 existences of past, present, and future? And if so, can not my neck pain and the injuries I've had in regards to my neck, have to do with karma that I created in a past existence?

5:52 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

So Ly, I'm wondering, that if something is reconciled, does it mean that it is most certainly refuted?

No, not at all. But because duality (speaking strictly of the gnostic definition, or the assertion that matter and spirit are diametrically opposed), by definition, relies on the assumption that its binary pieces are irreconcilable. So this doctrine is refuted if it is reconciled.

I agree. However, in being an exploration of that which is, does that mean that which isacross the 3 existences of past, present, and future?

Well, yes (though what that means, I'm not sure, since I'm not sure how literally I take the doctrine of past existence). But the past and future are already contained (mutually possessed, if you will) within the present, right? So the present is what you're given, really, to deal with.

And if so, can not my neck pain and the injuries I've had in regards to my neck, have to do with karma that I created in a past existence?

Or that you created in THIS existence. Maybe it's a set up for a more positive blow in this life of the next. Or it could reflect "external cause". Or maybe all of these are the same--if we operate in a pantheistic framework, each of us carries some portion of the others' karma, because the karma is set upon the whole of which we are all part. It seems to me, though, that you have to deal with the obstacle at hand in the present, with faith that the karma will work itself out if you fix your mind, heart, and soul on the right, single point of reference.

The notion that you "created" karma may be correct, strictly speaking, but given the limitations of language, it brings us back to a punitive notion; imagine, instead, that you participated in the karma, that the neck injury represents something that you were meant to encounter. Maybe the accident was an external cause, and the fact that you're alive and doing bodywork is the karma you created out of that circumstance; maybe the renewed pain is the catalyst for the next lesson, or a reminder that the laws of flesh are often rooted in chaos & catastrophe. Cause & effect is not a static, linear concept. There are a dozen things that your pain might mean, and I'm sure you, the beige, and I will interpret it at least three different ways. But what I imagine we'd all say is that your best bet is to chant, to persevere, to continue to seek truth, communication, generosity.

1:05 PM  
Blogger the beige one said...

I'm sure you, the beige, and I will interpret it at least three different ways.

No foolin'.

Created v. Participated

I'm not sure I understand how the word "created" leads to a "punitive" meaning, as one can create both positive and negative; and as karma is the effect of one's actions...Though, I guess I don't mind the language used in "participated" instead.

I'm not sure how literally I take the doctrine of past existence

Thankfully, it's not a necessary aspect of this Buddhism. Though, I must say, as a concept of faith, I find it to be a bit more logical than an afterlife paradise overseen by a benign, if love-needy and schizophrenic, being.

Just sayin'. And more to come at a time when I'm not leaving work.

5:43 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

I'm not sure I understand how the word "created" leads to a "punitive" meaning, as one can create both positive and negative; and as karma is the effect of one's actions...

I guess what I see is that when one experiences negative karma, and goes into the mode of referring to creating that karma, it seems to imply . . . I don't know, exactly; something uncomfortably close to a notion of "sin". Put it this way: I don't have any problem with the notion that one create's one's karma if we're willing to posit that "positive" cause can create "negative" effect. But that still leaves out the notion that--say, in the example of the car accident--we could be looking at an "external cause", or even an idea of "shared karma", in the notion that the border 'twixt us is illusory (so, say, 'Stine's karma and her mother's karma--or even the energy between them, if we wanted to posit that the energy between people could constitute a being in itself, with its own karma--could have created the event). So, for that reason, I prefer "participated", but I don't know that I feel that strongly about it. Just semantics.

Though, I must say, as a concept of faith, I find [past lives/reincarnation] to be a bit more logical than an afterlife paradise overseen by a benign, if love-needy and schizophrenic, being.

Oh, of course. I couldn't agree more. But I still tend to address BOTH as symbolic constructs, pointing to something less tangible.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Cobainess - ambalika said...

Hey, its good to find SGI members.. I would like to add to what you have explained. Ku is everything.. its the universe, its the world of the Buddha. Ke is the self in the simplest words and chu is the strength and the wisdom one derives from the Universe. so while chanting we are trying to invoke and combine these three to overcome our karmic problems or to do our human revolution.

1:58 AM  
Blogger Anxious MoFo said...

Stine, that is an interesting post. The three-way division sounds something like the four dharmadhatu of Huayan, a Chinese school of Buddhism which had a huge influence on Zen:

1. Phenomena, or conventional truth, or individual things. This sounds a lot like ke in your description.
2. The absolute truth, or the truth of emptiness. This sounds a lot like ku in your description.
3. The interpenetration of the conventional and absolute truths. This might be something like chu.
4. The interpenetration of phenomena with other phenomena.

Number four is, in a way, another way of describing number two. Everything is dependent on a web of conditions, and everything is dependent on everything else. If you're interested, I can provide links to more detail, but I don't want to spam your blog.

It is interesting how much Buddhist philosophy is an attempt to describe a middle way between essentialism and nihilism, and it is also interesting to see the different ways Buddhists have described that middle way. That middle way is more like walking along a ridgeline or a tightrope than walking in a valley between two hills.

2:25 PM  

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