Titian Sisyphus

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a

lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.



In Greek mythology Sisyphus (pron.: /sɪsɪfəs/; Greek : Σίσυφος,Sísyphos) was a king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth) punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever.

King Sisyphus promoted navigation and commerce but was avaricious and deceitful, committing many crimes,  not only against mortals, but also against the gods, even deceiving Thanatos the god of death. As a punishment for his trickery, King Sisyphus was made to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill. Before he could reach the top, however, the massive stone would always roll back down, forcing him to begin again. The maddening nature of the punishment was reserved for King Sisyphus due to his hubristic belief that his cleverness surpassed that of Zeus himself. Zeus accordingly displayed his own cleverness by enchanting the boulder into rolling away from King Sisyphus before he reached the top which ended up consigning Sisyphus to an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration. Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean.

Friedrich Welcker suggested that he symbolizes the vain struggle of man in the pursuit of knowledge. Albert Camus, in his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, saw Sisyphus as personifying the absurdity of human life, but Camus concludes “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” as “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

Maybe Camus  was referring to the happiness of our Western philosophers, in their unstoppable pursuit of eternally “reversing the sock” inwards an outwards!

Albert Camus


Reversing the sock one more time

Deleuze’s main philosophical project in the works he wrote prior to his collaborations with Guattari can be baldly summarized as a systematic inversion of the traditional metaphysical relationship between identity and difference. Traditionally, difference is seen as derivative from identity: e.g., to say that “X is different from Y” assumes some X and Y with at least relatively stable identities (to name one example: Plato’s forms). To the contrary, Deleuze claims that all identities are effects of difference. Identities are neither logically nor metaphysically prior to difference, Deleuze argues, “given that there exist differences of nature between things of the same genus.” That is, not only are no two things ever the same, the categories we use to identify individuals in the first place derive from differences. Apparent identities such as “X” are composed of endless series of differences, where “X” = “the difference between x and x'”, and “x” = “the difference between…”, and so forth. Difference goes all the way down. To confront reality honestly, Deleuze claims, we must grasp beings exactly as they are, and concepts of identity (forms, categories, resemblances, unities of apperception, predicates, etc.) fail to attain what he calls “difference in itself.” “If philosophy has a positive and direct relation to things, it is only insofar as philosophy claims to grasp the thing itself, according to what it is, in its difference from everything it is not, in other words, in its internal difference.”

Deleuze’s virtual ideas borrows from Plato’s Archetypes but denies it’s transcendence, superficially resemble Plato’s forms and Kant’s ideas of pure reason, they are not originals or models, nor do they transcend possible experience; instead they are the conditions of actual experience, the internal difference in itself. “The concept they [the conditions] form is identical to its object.”A Deleuzean idea or concept of difference is not a ghost-like abstraction of an experienced thing, it is a real system of differential relations that creates actual spaces, times, and sensations. In my opinion a clever Sisyphean cunning to deny the Idealism of his idea, good try although I prefer Plato original Archetypes.

Thus Deleuze, alluding to Kant and Schelling, at times refers to his philosophy as a transcendental empiricism. In Kant’s transcendental idealism, experience only makes sense when organized by forms of sensibility (namely, space and time) and intellectual categories (such as causality). Assuming the content of these forms and categories to be qualities of the world as it exists independently of our perceptual access, according to Kant, spawns seductive but senseless metaphysical beliefs (for example, extending the concept of causality beyond possible experience results in unverifiable speculation about a first cause). Deleuze inverts the Kantian arrangement: experience exceeds our concepts by presenting novelty, and this raw experience of difference actualizes an idea, unfettered by our prior categories, forcing us to invent new ways of thinking. Once more reversing the sock: His Transcendental Empiricism vs. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism, may be considered original by some, repetitive, and in vogue with our politically correct materialism for others …

Gilles Deleuze portrait


Simultaneously, Deleuze claims that being is univocal, i.e., that all of its senses are affirmed in one voice. Deleuze borrows the doctrine of ontological univocity from the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus. In medieval disputes over the nature of God, many eminent theologians and philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas) held that when one says that “God is good”, God’s goodness is only analogous to human goodness. Scotus argued to the contrary that when one says that “God is good”, the goodness in question is exactly the same sort of goodness that is meant when one says “Jane is good”. That is, God only differs from us in degree, and properties such as goodness, power, reason, and so forth are univocally applied, regardless of whether one is talking about God, a person, or a flea. Note the inversion of what is above is equal as to what is below, but nevertheless I agree that is does not matter where you find God, since He is in the flea, and the Transcendent.

Deleuze adapts the doctrine of univocity to claim that being is, univocally, difference. “With univocity, however, it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference. Moreover, it is not we who are univocal in a Being which is not; it is we and our individuality which remains equivocal in and for a univocal Being.” Here Deleuze at once echoes and inverts Spinoza, who maintained that everything that exists is a modification of the one substance, God or Nature. For Deleuze, there is no one substance, only an always-differentiating process, an origami cosmos, always folding, unfolding, refolding. Deleuze summarizes this ontology in the paradoxical formula “pluralism = monism” Wahdath al-Wujud (Oneness of Being)

Difference and Repetition is Deleuze’s most sustained and systematic attempt to work out the details of such a metaphysics, but his other works develop similar ideas. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), for example, reality is a play of forces; in Anti-Oedipus (1972), a “body without organs”; in What Is Philosophy? (1991), a “plane of immanence” or “chaosmos”.


Wahdat al-Wujud

Wahdat al-Wujud literally means the “Unity of Existence“. Ibn Arabi is most often characterized in Islamic texts as the originator of the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, however, this expression is not found in his works and the first who employed this term was perhaps, in fact, the Andalusian mystical thinker Ibn Sabin. Although he frequently makes statements that approximate it, it cannot be claimed that “Oneness of Being” is a sufficient description of his ontology, since he affirms the “manyness of reality” with equal vigor.

In his view, wujūd is the unknowable and inaccessible ground of everything that exists. God alone is true wujūd, while all things dwell in nonexistence, so also wujūd alone is nondelimited (mutlaq), while everything else is constrained, confined, and constricted. Wujūd is the absolute, infinite, nondelimited reality of God, while all others remain relative, finite, and delimited.

But we need to be careful in asserting wujūd’s nondelimitation. This must not be understood to mean that wujūd is different and only different from every delimitation. The Shaykh is quick to point out that wujūd’s nondelimitation demands that it be able to assume every delimitation. If wujūd could not become delimited, it would be limited by its own nondelimitation. Thus “He possesses nondelimitation in delimitation” Or, “God possesses nondelimited wujūd, but no delimitation prevents delimitation. Rather, He possesses all delimitations, so He is nondelimited delimitation, since no single delimitation rather than another rules over Him…. Hence nothing is to be attributed to Him in preference to anything else” . Wujūd must have the power of assuming every delimitation on pain of being limited by those delimitations that it cannot assume. At the same time, it transcends the forms by which it becomes delimited and remains untouched by their constraints.

As you can see Deleuze’s metaphysics is as new, an original as cooked beans, if you consider that the Andalusian mystics precede him by eight-hundred years!

With the added fact that the Andalusian mystic Ibn Arabi wrote volumes on the subject, and the above it is just a very limited view of the theme.

Unity in Multiplicity


Deleuze’s unusual metaphysics entails an equally atypical epistemology, or what he calls a transformation of “the image of thought”. According to Deleuze, the traditional image of thought, found in philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Husserl, misconceives of thinking as a mostly unproblematic business. Truth may be hard to discover—it may require a life of pure theorizing, or rigorous computation, or systematic doubt—but thinking is able, at least in principle, to correctly grasp facts, forms, ideas, etc. It may be practically impossible to attain a God’s-eye, neutral point of view, but that is the ideal to approximate: a disinterested pursuit that results in a determinate, fixed truth; an orderly extension of common sense. Deleuze rejects this view as papering over the metaphysical flux, instead claiming that genuine thinking is a violent confrontation with reality, an involuntary rupture of established categories. Truth changes what we think; it alters what we think is possible. By setting aside the assumption that thinking has a natural ability to recognize the truth, Deleuze says, we attain a “thought without image”, a thought always determined by problems rather than solving them. “All this, however, presupposes codes or axioms which do not result by chance, but which do not have an intrinsic rationality either. It’s just like theology: everything about it is quite rational if you accept sin, the immaculate conception, and the incarnation. Reason is always a region carved out of the irrational—not sheltered from the irrational at all, but traversed by it and only defined by a particular kind of relationship among irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift.”

the image of thought

Zen Buddhism and the Yoga Sutras

Deleuze’s peculiar readings of the history of philosophy stem from this unusual epistemological perspective. To read a philosopher is no longer to aim at finding a single, correct interpretation, but is instead to present a philosopher’s attempt to grapple with the problematic nature of reality. “Philosophers introduce new concepts, they explain them, but they don’t tell us, not completely anyway, the problems to which those concepts are a response. […] The history of philosophy, rather than repeating what a philosopher says, has to say what he must have taken for granted, what he didn’t say but is nonetheless present in what he did say.”

Likewise, rather than seeing philosophy as a timeless pursuit of truth, reason, or universals, Deleuze defines philosophy as the creation of concepts. For Deleuze, concepts are not identity conditions or propositions, but metaphysical constructions that define a range of thinking, such as Plato’s ideas, Descartes’s cogito, or Kant’s doctrine of the faculties. A philosophical concept “posits itself and its object at the same time as it is created.” In Deleuze’s view, then, philosophy more closely resembles practical or artistic production than it does an adjunct to a definitive scientific description of a pre-existing world (as in the tradition of Locke or Quine).

Maybe what Deleuze understood was that the whole canon of Western philosophy is based on concepts, and that the study of philosophy in it’s Western way, is the study of words, a hopeless pursuit and not truth in a enlightened way.

A hopeless pursuit

Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight in the Buddhist teachings. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through zazen  and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

if you’re a westerner you may find it hard to shake off the intellectual and dualist ways of thinking that dominate western culture: these can make it difficult for westerners to come to Zen.

Zen Buddhists pay less attention to scripture as a means of learning than they do to various methods of practicing Zen. The most common way of teaching is for enlightenment to be communicated direct from master to pupil.

Zen practices are aimed at taking the rational and intellectual mind out of the mental loop, so that the student can become more aware and realize their own Buddha-nature. Sometimes even (mild) physical violence is used to stop the student intellectualizing or getting stuck in some other way.

Students of Zen aim to achieve enlightenment by the way they live, and by mental actions that approach the truth without philosophical thought or intellectual endeavor.


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tell us:

Before beginning any spiritual text it is customary to clear the mind of all distracting thoughts, to calm the breath and to purify the heart.

1.1 Now, instruction in Union.

1.2. Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.

1.3. Then the seer dwells in his own nature.

A far cry from “conceptual philosophy”

In his later work (from roughly 1981 onward), Deleuze sharply distinguishes art, philosophy, and science as three distinct disciplines, each analyzing reality in different ways. While philosophy creates concepts, the arts create novel qualitative combinations of sensation and feeling (what Deleuze calls “percepts” and “affects”), and the sciences create quantitative theories based on fixed points of reference such as the speed of light or absolute zero (which Deleuze calls “functives”). According to Deleuze, none of these disciplines enjoy primacy over the others: they are different ways of organizing the metaphysical flux, “separate melodic lines in constant interplay with one another.”For example, Deleuze does not treat cinema as an art representing an external reality, but as an ontological practice that creates different ways of organizing movement and time. Philosophy, science, and art are equally, and essentially, creative and practical. Hence, instead of asking traditional questions of identity such as “is it true?” or “what is it?”, Deleuze proposes that inquiries should be functional or practical: “what does it do?” or “how does it work?”

My Zen Teacher would complain: “My novice American students, ask me to explain the concept of Zen, or how does it work? My Oriental students, ask me: ‘How it feels like?”

Zen it is not a concept to understand with our minds, it is not a definition that you put in a file on your memory, and bring it up when somebody ask you about it, as the way you learn formulas for your chemistry test, or when somebody ask you have you read so, and so? And you say yes, I read it, you have not grasped it! Zen flesh, Zen bones! Just because you climb a small hill, doesn’t mean you can climb Everest, or if you swim a few laps means you can cross the English Chanel, or because you know how to ride a bicycle means you can compete in the Tour de France, however like Zen, there is some people who do just that.

Climbing Mount Everest

The Meaning of Practice Dogen Zenji

One of my teacher’s favorite anecdotes was Dogen meeting of his Teacher Rújìng. In 1223, Dōgen and Myōzen undertook the dangerous passage across the East China Sea to China to study in Jing-de-si (Ching-te-ssu, 景德寺) monastery as Eisai had once done.

In China, Dōgen first went to the leading Chan monasteries in Zhèjiāng province. At the time, most Chan teachers based their training around the use of gōng-àns (Japanese: kōan). Though Dōgen assiduously studied the kōans, he became disenchanted with the heavy emphasis laid upon them, and wondered why the sutras were not studied more. At one point, owing to this disenchantment, Dōgen even refused Dharma transmission from a teacher.Then, in 1225, he met a master named Rújìng (如淨; J. Nyōjo), the thirteenth patriarch of the Cáodòng (J. Sōtō) lineage of Zen Buddhism, at Mount Tiāntóng (天童山 Tiāntóngshān; J. Tendōzan) in Níngbō. Rujing was reputed to have a style of Chan that was different from the other masters whom Dōgen had thus far encountered. In later writings, Dōgen referred to Rujing as “the Old Buddha”. Additionally he affectionately described both Rujing and Myōzen assenshi (先師?, “Former Teacher”).

Monk begging for alms

In those days, even the shortest trips of this nature were arduous, and very dangerous. It took its toll on Dogen as well, who become very sick on the way. As soon as he arrived, however, his spirit returned and he set off to the Temple to begin his training. But much to his disappointment, it was not what he had expected. The training was lax, there was no discipline, and all the priest were lazy, not pursuing any types of studies at all. Heartbroken he returned to the ship thinking about heading home to Japan.

He had spent about two weeks in the ship waiting for departure, when  he happen to look at a decrepit priest of about 60 years of age, who had come to the ship to buy dried mushrooms from Japan. Dogen with nothing else to do began casual conversation with him. “What business do you come for?” Inquired Dogen.

“I have come to buy dried mushrooms for tomorrow’s soup at my temple.” Replied the old man.

“Where is your temple?”

“About 14 miles away.”

“You come that distance just for mushrooms? You are old; aren’t there younger priests who can do this work? It so hot outside and you must be very tired.” Replied Dogen.

“I have to do this work because it is my work and no one else.” Said the monk.

“Why don’t you rest here tonight and go back tomorrow morning when it is more cooler.” Dogen offered.

“I must return today because this is for tomorrow’s soup, which I must prepare. I will leave as soon as I buy this mushrooms.”

“You are obvious a senior monk at your Temple. Why don’t you spend your time studying the teachings instead of doing such menial work which the younger priest should do?” Demanded Dogen.

“The younger priest are not me, I am not them. This is my job.” Then added: “Obviously, you don’t understand the meaning of practice.”

“What do you mean by that?!” Asked the astonished Dogen.

“In anything in this world, there is nothing hidden,” said the old monk, and he left, vanishing down the road.

Of course at that time young Dogen still cling to the mind for answers, even if what he was looking for was a rigorous practice.

Misogi under iced waterfall  The Swordsman and the Cat

From an old book on swordplay, probably written by
an early master of the Ittôryû school, which was founded
by Itô Kagehisa in the seventeenth century.

“After listening intently to the wisdom of the Cat, Shôken proposed this question: “What is meant by `There is neither the subject nor the object’ ?”

Replied the Cat: “Because of the self there is the foe; when there is no self there is no foe.  The foe means an opposition as the male is opposed to the female and fire to water.  Whatever things have form exist necessarily in opposition.  When there are no signs  stirred in your mind, no conflicts of opposition take place there; and when there are no conflicts, one trying to get the better of the other, this is known as `neither foe nor self’.  When, further, the mind itself is forgotten together with signs of thought, you enjoy a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, you are in a state of perfect quiet passivity, you are in harmony with the world, you are one with it.  While the foe-form ceases to exist, you are not conscious of it, nor can it be said that you are altogether unconscious of it.  Your mind is cleansed of all thought movements, and you act only when there is a prompting.”

“When your mind is thus in a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, the world is identified with your self, which means that you make no choice between right and wrong, like and dislike, and are above all forms of abstraction.  Such conditions as pleasure and pain, gain and loss, are creations of your own mind.  The whole universe is indeed not to be sought after outside the Mind.  An old poet says: `When there is as particle of dust in your eye, the triple world becomes a narrow path; have your mind completely free from objects — and how much this life expands !’  When even a tiny particle of sand gets into the eye, we cannot keep it open; the eye may be likened to the Mind which by nature is brightly illuminating and free from objects; but as soon as an object enters there its virtue is lost.  It is said again that `when one is surrounded by an enemy — hundreds of thousands in strength – this physical form  may be crushed to pieces, but the Mind is mine with which no overwhelming army can have anything to do.’  Says Confucius: `Even a plain man of the street cannot be deprived of his will.’  When however this mind is confused, it turns to be its own enemy.  This is all I can explain here, for the master’s task cannot go beyond transmitting technique and illustrating the reason for it.  It is yourself who realizes the truth of it.  The truth is self-attained, it is transmitted from mind to mind, it is a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching.  There is here no willful deviation from traditional teaching, for even the master is powerless in this respect.  Nor is this confined to the study of Zen.  From the mind-training initiated by the ancient sages down to various branches of art, self-realization is the keynote of them all, and it is transmitted from mind to mind — a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching.  What is performed by scriptural teaching is to point out for you what you have within yourself.  There is no transference of secrets from master to disciple.  Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own.  This self-realization is known as `seeing into one’s own being’ which is satoriSatori is an awakening from a dream.  Awakening and self-realization and seeing into one’s own being — these are synonymous.

To make Nature display its mysterious way of achieving things is to do away with all of your own thinking, contriving, and acting; let Nature have her own way, let her act as it feels in you , and there will be no shadows, no signs, no traces whereby you can be caught; you have then no foes who can successfully resist you. “

Seeing in to one's own Being


About theburningheart

This entry was posted in Buddhism, Buddhist Monk, Conceptualism, Cosmology, Counsciousness, Critical Thinking, Deleuze, Dogen Zenji, Epistemology, Ibn Arabi, Language, Metaphysics, Mysticism, Ontology, Philosophy, Postmodernism, Semantics, Spirituality, Subjective, Transcendental Empiricism, Uncategorized, Univocity, Wahdat al Wujud, Western Civilization, Western Philosophy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga Sutras, Zen and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. B* says:

    Beautiful post full of muse-worthy insights! I especially enjoyed reading the segment on Zen practice.
    Thank you for sharing and do take care, too. 🙂

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