There was a time, still within memory’s ever more tenuous grasp that I imagined myself, at this age, as a monk in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, that I had assumed a silence imposed by lack of language, not faith.
I am certain that the Japanese are pleased that I let that dream pass unfulfilled, that I confine my practice to that American form of Zen, softened and gently bleached from its shogun watered roots.
I recall my visits to Senso-ji, Todaii-ji and countless other small temples where I would often find a zafu and sit, but only the youngest monks I met could understand that it was there, among them, that I felt spiritually at home.
George Harrison said that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there, and on reflection it was obvious he was correct.. Today, rising from the cushion, the four vows recited, Buddha put back on his small altar, Harrison’s words echoed loudly for he understood in a moment what it has taken me years to grasp, for all roads lead to enlightenment if you simply stop searching for it. Somewhere the spirit of our departed George was laughing with me
in this moment.
This morning I plucked a thread of silence from the dawn, watched, carefully by a cardinal who knew not to break the purity of the moment. I do this as often as I can sometimes grabbing one from the moon, as it sits overhead, holding out its promise of quietude as people retreat into homes. From these threads I have begun to weave a shawl, which, when done I will drape over my shoulders as I sit on the zafu and welcome nothingness into a space I create from everything around me.
When you assume the mat and gaze at the wall, what is it you see? If you see nothing, what do you think? If you are certain that you see nothing, that is what you think. Do not see, do not think, and let the cushion fall away until the moment you no longer exist, but let the moment fall away as well and there is only the emptiness of peace.
A reflection on case 17 of the Entangling Vines Koans
Settling into perfect stillness, each of us in our brown robes on brown chairs, benches, cushions, note his entry is somewhere between the thundering of a forgotten storm or the garbage trucks crawling slowly down the street. Despite the early morning heat there is no breeze, only a large moth comes through the open windows and dances around the rice paper light shades. The incense hangs over the burner on the altar waiting to be carried into the room. You return to thoughts of thoughtlessness, invite ideas to come and quickly leave. You grow heavy sinking into the earth, your weight suddenly great. The moth grows bored and slips out the window.
The gong reverberates, its depth hangs in the air, fades like a slowly retreating army.
The zafu is at once coarse and caressing, nestling me as I settle down into becoming one with the earth, the zabuton, a fluid translator. The mokugyo’s rhythm lies deep within my chest. The incense settles on my tongue, an acrid sweetness, and there is absolute silence where my breath is an onrushing freight, passing quickly and departing to clear the way for the next, and the next, until even that fades and there is nothing, and there is everything, and there is me and not me, you and not you, and here is no longer.
The gong reverberates like a single hand clapping.