Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Getting the hang of enlightenment

We may find in the beginning stages of Zen training that it is very hard being enlightened all the time, but unfortunately there's no kind of off-switch. All kinds of things can become bothersome as the difference between what you formerly thought of as "I" and "the rest of the world" becomes perilously narrow. Perhaps there is an unappealing-looking homeless person, or a parent shouting at their children like a slave-trader with a toothache, or else it is the banker spreading his palms as he wonders which of his holiday homes to redecorate. These characters one and all, and this is the sticky bit, they are all you. I can sense the swivelling of cynical eyeballs within incredulous sockets, "what hippyish nonsense" they say. Perhaps if I were to put it another way, and say that between you and they lies not a jot of separation. You can think of time, distance, circumstance or the fact of bone filled bodies as separating us from other folks. But there is no change in facts required, only one of the heart and mind, to see these not as barriers but rather as bridges. Bad news for all you prospective hermits out there: there is no such thing as being alone, not really. It may help, or it may freak you out utterly, to think of all your senses as being analogous to that of touch. I see the bike outside the window because the the light touches between the sun, the bike and my sensory field. Just because of all this though, there's no particular need to go around hugging everything saying "hello bicycle, hello irritated cat, hello pungent street drinker." I mean, you could, and you might, but there really is no need to stick extra ideas of Oneness onto everything. Everything knows this already, and what's more, it acts on it. This is called Life, a grand interpenetrating, multi-centered web of ever-shifting process and relationship. Zen folks long in the tooth may get uncomfortable, irritable even if some character goes about pointing out just how very together it all is, as one wit said:

"These hills and mountains are the very body of Buddha" to which his teacher replied "Oh do be quiet, really I can't take you anywhere."*

*I may have taken some liberty with the translation of the original...