“If you seek, how is that different from pursuing sound and form. If you don’t seek how are you different than soil, wood or stone. You must seek without seeking.”
-Chan (Zen) Master Foyan
Seek without seeking sounds terribly incongruous in terms of Western logic. But then isn’t that precisely its purpose – to diminish our dependence on rational thought when we inquire into the nature of being?
Haven’t we been warned time and time again by Laozi, Chaungzi and many Taoist and Buddhist masters that words can never access the nature of reality nor can we grasp it with conventional thought?
On the other hand, take the words attributed to Jesus Christ in the New Testament: “Seek and you shall find, Knock and it will be opened unto you.”
How comforting, how inviting those words seem in contrast with Master Foyan’s admonition.
Of course, we have no way of knowing if Christ actually said those exact words. Nevertheless, the saying conforms perfectly to the linear process of Western logic based on cause and effect. First, there is the Seeking which in turn leads us to the Finding. First, there is the Knocking which causes the Opening.
But in the Taoist and Buddhist traditions the process is circular not linear. The Seeking and the Finding are one and the same as are the Knocking and the Opening. Only when we divide the processes into linear increments of time do we create separation – beginnings and endings.
But a circle has no beginning and no end, the same for the nature of being and reality. So, Master Foyan is urging us to realize that the Seeking and the Finding are one and the same.
How is this possible? It becomes a circular process when there is no Seeker. Christ’s phrase from the New Testament implies a Seeker and a separate Thing Found. In other words, a subject that does the Seeking and an object that is Found.
However, when the Seeker is no longer the subject but the object, then the Seeking is the Finding. This occurs the moment we seek within ourselves and not externally.
This is the meaning of Master Foyan’s “Seek without Seeking. When we seek for things outside of ourselves, we are pursuing sound and form – material objects or situations. But when we look within to come to terms with the meaning of our very own existence, we are seeking without seeking.
Master Foyan emphasizes this kind of seeking when he states: “Those who will not stop and look into themselves go on looking for intellectual understanding. That pursuit of intellectual understanding, seeking rationalizations and making comparisons, is all wrong.
“If people would turn their attention back to the self, they would understand everything.”
And if we understand everything, then there is nothing that we could ask for that we would not receive, nothing that we could seek that we would not find, and no door that we could knock on that would not be opened to us.