Monday, October 29, 2012
The most important part of the practice is for the question to remain alive and for your whole body and mind to become a question. In Zen they say you have to ask with the pores of your skin and the marrow of your bones. A Zen saying points out: Great questioning, great awakening; little questioning, little awakening; no questioning, no awakening.
--from What Is This, by Martine Bactchelor
Tricycle Magazine, Fall 2008
Martine Batchelor offers an intensely poignant teaching in her quote--our tradition is about experience, about living in the very body, in this heart-mind, in this experience that is at once personal and universal, with the ever-present question "What Is This?"
Only as we allow ourselves to be thoroughly saturated with this koan do we begin to awaken.
Saturday's retreat with Sensei Tony touched on this practice as well: he talked about the Middle Way and what the Buddha said about immortality.
He taught us a simple yet powerful meditation using visualization of the body breaking down, becoming nothing but a skeleton, and then seeing the bones dissolving into little piles of dust, only to have the dust blown away as the door is opened....
This is an amazing image of our living and dying, but I was a little freaked out to begin the meditation. Initially, my ego self asked, What if I don't come back from this meditation?
Many things came up for me during the sit, but the question that seemed to bloom from the dust of this impermanent earthly body was this: If we know we must say good-bye, how do we continue to say hello?
Day by day, moment by moment, we don't always want to say "hello".
We don't always want to ask, What is this, because asking is oftentimes terribly painful and and paralyzing. We get answers we don't like at all. Or we just don't hear the answers.
"Hello" is terrifying! But "hello" it must be if we are to be liberated.
Knowing we will someday, ANY day, be nothing more than rotted flesh around bones, and then nothing more than dust, is enough to pretend we will never die.
Denial propels us to T.J. Maxx to buy something we don't need, or to the refrigerator to eat something we aren't really hungry for, or to the singles mixer to meet someone we can project all of our desires on to, or to the book that will finally answer all of our questions. Denial is what floats our little life-raft with the belief that our loved ones will never change, will always be with us and magically know at every moment how to please us and keep us from feeling downright yucky.
But no matter how we deny, "hello" is a continuous urge that can not be denied; it propels us from the depth of our being to open to curiosity and experiment, to living fully.
Saying "hello" in the face of our eventual "good-bye" demands great courage, and a particular faith that rises from something for which we really have no words. But we know it when we experience it!
Our body knows it, our bones know it, our marrow knows it!
So, What Is This, anyway?
We get knocked down, battered, crushed, denied, mocked. We get called out time and time again over all the junk we spread in our path, demanding that everyone ignore the garbage too.....Hu? You're tripping over my garbage? What garbage?!?
Oftentimes, the deepest urge is to shut it all down, to give in to a numbness so profound that we don't experience anything at all--Thanatos, the death wish, urges me to stay in bed and pull the covers up over my head, please, just for a little while longer....
Truly, the first Noble Truth of our suffering permeates our being, it is the condition of being human. But what if the Buddha had stopped with just this one Noble Truth?
We might all still be in bed.
Fortunately, the Buddha offered us a way out of our suffering when he realized that our cravings and attachments were the cause of suffering, and that the 8 Fold Path is the antidote.
The Buddha offered us himself, which is none other than our own true self. He offered us the Dharma and the Sangha, the very lessons of our own living and the unity of our deep interbeing with everyone and everything.
The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha is everywhere in the question, What Is This? And there isn't any other way than to practice with our whole body and mind; this is the Middle Way.
Saying "hello" means that we open ourselves to the myriad wonders of just being, without judgement, without shutting down or clinging like velcro to our fears and conditioning.
There is great liberation in "hello".
This is a paradox, a koan, that simply needs to be experienced.
We can forever imagine what drinking a glass of cold, clear water feels like when our throat is parched and dry, but we don't know true quenching until we lift the glass to our lips and drink deeply, fully experiencing the moment. And that moment is simultaneously universal and profoundly personal.
When we make this practice our own, when we say "hello" over and over again, even in the face of our daily falling apart (mentally, emotionally, physically), and eventual death, we become not only the question but also the answer!
And the one-ness of that question/answer is sweetly heartfelt and helps us realize the truth of our fleeting, ephemeral, wonderous existence.
Ultimately, this is (literally and metaphorically) what gets me out of bed in the morning to greet the day--I am compelled to ask, What Is This?!?
Thank You Sensei for originally pointing out the question!