The week prior, author David Hinton talked with us about The Way of Ch’an. We revisited this topic on Monday.   

From David Hinton’s book, The Way of Ch’an:

DARK-ENIGMA 玄 is perhaps the most foundational concept in this Daoist/Chan cosmology/ontology. Dark-enigma is Way before it is named, before Absence and Presence give birth to one another—that region beyond name and ideation where consciousness and the empirical Cosmos share their source.

Dark-enigma came to have a particular historic significance, for it became the name of a neo-Daoist school of philosophy in the third and fourth centuries C.E.: Dark-Enigma Learning is the school that gave Chinese thought a decidedly ontological turn and became central to the synthesis of Daoism and Dhyana Buddhism into Chan Buddhism.

Indeed, it is the concept is at the very heart of Chan practice and enlightenment. It is there at the very beginning, concluding the first chapter of the Daodejing: “Dark-enigma deep within dark-enigma / gateway of all mystery.”

And it recurs often at key moments throughout the Chan tradition. Among the countless examples is Fathom Mountain (Dongshan, 807–869; founder of Soto Zen) saying that the most profound dimension of Chan’s wordless teaching is dark-enigma within dark-enigma, which he evocatively describes as the “tongue of a corpse.”

And the very influential Stone-Head (Shitou, 700–790) ends his still influential poem  Amalgam-Alike Compact declaring dark-enigma to be the essential object of Chan inquiry:

Please, you who try to fathom dark-enigma clear through,
don’t pass your days and nights in vain.

—David Hinton