Hearing the Sutra: the Lankavatara

The issue for me is not whether the Lankavatara was a part of the Sixth Patriarch’s enlightenment experience; the issue is the nature of that experience. Here’s something I found under Milton Erickson on Wikipedia the other day, and I think it goes to the heart of the matter:

Erickson maintained that it was not possible consciously to instruct the unconscious mind, and that authoritarian suggestions were likely to be met with resistance. The unconscious mind responds to openings, opportunities, metaphors, symbols, and contradictions. Effective hypnotic suggestion, then, should be ‘artfully vague’, leaving space for the subject to fill in the gaps with their own unconscious understandings – even if they do not consciously grasp what is happening. The skilled hypnotherapist constructs these gaps of meaning in a way most suited to the individual subject – in a way which is most likely to produce the desired change.

(from Wikipedia, Milton_H._Erickson)

Sounds like Zen, doesn’t it? There’s a discussion in the article of using confusion or the interruption of a flow of actions normally executed as a chunk to induce a state of trance, actions like tying one’s shoe lace or shaking hands. Erickson was famous for “handshake induction”.

If metaphor and symbol combined with the induction of trance is the way Zen is traditionally taught, you may well ask why I am so concerned with particular senses these days; that’s ’cause I can’t breathe sometimes without calling them to mind. It seems I’m developmentally challenged in this regard. I’m know I’m not alone; here are a pair of articles by David Brown, each about a particular sense important in the education of the deaf and blind:

The Vestibular Sense

The Forgotten Sense: Proprioception

It’s not just the deaf and blind.  My take is that many people are developmentally challenged with regard to these senses, and that the exercise of these senses comes forward in the practice of zazen of a necessity in the relaxed movement of breath. Observing the role of these senses in zazen only requires a suspension of the exercise of will at the right moment, and that’s where the induction of trance comes in.

Was it the portion of the Lankavatara Sutra the patriarch overheard in the market place, or was it a state of trance induced by hearing the sutra read in a marketplace that allowed the patriarch to experience his own nature intimately? That’s the issue, to me.