Monday, February 16, 2009

Enter there

[Sunlight and Shadow, Mexico, by Alice Schille; Keny Galleries]

a Zen story:
Master Gensha (831-908)
Monk: "Where can I enter Zen?"
Gensha: "Can you hear the babbling brook?"
Monk: "Yes, I can hear it."
Gensha: "Then enter there."

This story seems on the surface to be a student asking where the monastery is, or what he has to do to be accepted, to enter the Buddha Way. If so, Gensha's answer seems non-sense.

But some see the monk (in this traditional story, it is a male student) as asking in a coded way - How can I reach enlightenment (or end my suffering, or find peace of mind)? If that's the case, Gensha's answer makes more sense. He is saying, You don't have to go anywhere -- just plunge into reality, which is right here. Of course, the fact is we can't do that until we patiently cultivate a spiritual discipline, until eventually we can notice something beside our own thoughts, such as the sound of the running stream.

It's not just that our thoughts are loud, but that they are so fancy and so insistent on forming narratives which easily overpower the simplicity of reality - what we are sensing and perceiving now. There are times in the early years of meditation, on retreats, when you think you are going to scream or die of the sheer, monotonous repetition of your concerns and worries. But eventually sitting still and keeping quiet calm you down, and the simple environment and ritual become more and more interesting - how each breath is unique, unlike any other; how the sun and shadow move through the room from dawn to dark. You lift your eyes at the end of a sit, and everything has changed.

This morning I am coming back from what turned out to be three weeks in another town - an arthritis flareup, cortisone shots and side effects and having to rest, and just as I was getting back in the groove, a two-day power outage. Then we had The Grandson over the weekend, which always introduces vital chaos into our lives.

So this morning I seemed to see the house anew - dust bunnies, clothes that needed to be washed, empty root beer cans, all that - as I was getting dressed. The February sun was coming in the big east windows in the bedroom. Most of the time when I'm in that room, I'm using artificial light or sleeping. It looks different in sunlight.

My eye was caught by the Alice Schille poster on that east wall, which was produced for a show titled "Lyrical Colorist." In the general bright light, the watercolor seemed illuminated from within. It is a beach scene, and the sand gleamed pale and hot in a way I had never seen before. The white of the people's clothes bounced out, the clouds hung full. Enter there, I thought.

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