I've been working on an article on the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel. The Three Turnings are a Mahayana thing, if you haven't heard of them. The article is stuck in a digital bardo at the moment, neither published nor not-published, but as soon as the About.com techies kick it into the Nirmanakaya realm I will link to it. [Update: "Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel.")
Anyway, one of the issues that came up as I wrote was the issue of conceptual knowledge and logic. Occasionally I read that Buddhism (unlike those other religions) is logical and arrives at conclusions based on reasoned analysis. And I think, somebody's not spent much time with Zen, huh?
In his book The Third Turning of the Wheel: Wisdom of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, Zen teacher Reb Anderson offers a wonderful analysis of how logic appeared and disappeared and reappeared in Buddhism.
The Buddha began his teaching this way, Anderson Roshi says --
"He had to speak in a language that the people listening to him could understand, so in this first turning of the dharma wheel he offered a conceptual, logical teaching. He showed us how to analyze our experience and he set out a path for people to find freedom and liberate themselves from suffering."
OK, so far. But the second turning, which marks the emergence of Mahayana, kicks logic to the curb. Reb Anderson writes that the second turning "refutes the previous method and the previous path based on a conceptual approach to liberation." In order to realize enlightenment, one must go beyond conceptual knowledge and logic.
However, once you've gone beyond conceptual knowledge and logic, you can be logical again. Thus, the third turning is "a logical approach that is based on the refutation of logic," Reb Anderson says.
This actually makes sense to me, but I'm not sure I can explain it. I'll give it a shot --
From the Mahayana view, the very logical Theravada approach does not explain how an individual may enter Nirvana if an individual is not-self, not an abiding autonomous thing. I should add that the Theravadins actually do work this out in a way that makes sense to them; I don't intend to knock the Theravadins here.
But let's wade into Mahayana for now. The Mahayana second-turning view is expressed in the Heart Sutra, in which (quoting Red Pine) "The liberation of all beings revolves around the liberation of the bodhisattva from the concept of being." Conceptual knowledge doesn't go there.
But once the unreality of the concept of being sinks in, then that can be logically worked with to gain understanding. Hence, there is logic based on the refutation of logic.
If this makes no sense at all, don't worry about it.