Nansen said, "Mind is not the Buddha, reason is not the Way."
Nansen, growing old, had no shame.
Just opening his stinking mouth, he let slip the family secrets.
Yet there are very few who are grateful for his kindness.
The sky clears, the sun shines bright,
The rain comes, the earth gets wet.
He opens his heart and expounds the whole secret,
But I fear he is little appreciated.
This case is not very different from the previous case and there is nothing more I want to say so I will write about something else, growing old. I am 63 and I no longer am working a regular job. I devote my time to my Zen practice and a bit more time to teaching Zen. I write this blog. I play guitar. Walk the dog. and hang out with my wife. I cook a bit. Socialize a bit. And I contemplate life. Growing old is about giving up things. Friends and parents die. The body grows weak and frail. I am not quite there but many of my friends and family are. Activities are given up. Ambitions are given up. But growing old is also an opportunity for wisdom. This giving up things is something like Zen practice. And then of course there is just more experience. Maybe we can see life as it is and not some fantasy of what we would like it to be.
I find myself contemplating life quite a bit. It is such a great unknown. At one time I studied physics and from that perspective we are hardly real just a vast collection of subatomic particles which themselves are just little more then energetic blips in space-time. And then there is the vast space between the particles. And it is all interacting according the mysteries of quantum cause and effect. Understanding this, when I look out through my eyes at the world, everything has a sort of phantom existence.
And then when I look at human society I see delusion and folly. I have been alive long enough to know that the hopes of youth for some sort of better world, that progress follows a straight line is just not going to happen the way we might want. There is tragedy all along the way and it may all collapse.
I find myself talking to friends about death and I contemplate my own death, and think about just disappearing.
As a Buddhist and through my experience in meditation I hold to no idea that I have a soul or personal essence that will continue to live after my death. For me meditation has confirmed this understanding, and that first experience of confirmation deeply changed me, yet the ego, the idea of an individual self, does not give up so easily. It is simply growing older that does the work. In its own way it puts me more and more in touch with my own emptiness.
Emptiness, that Buddhist concept we so love to contemplate. The other day a friend told me that the Sanskrit word sunyata from which emptiness is translated has its root in the ancient Sanskrit word for the number zero sunya. Interestingly, many a zen teacher also uses the word zero in their teaching repertoire, most notably my own teacher Sasaki Roshi. In Zen we are asked to experience emptiness in our meditation. It is not to be understood in words though there are some classic definitions. To experience emptiness in meditation is to experience what we call the Great Death which is just another term for letting go of all thought and emotion and even the awareness of an individual self. Meditation that is this deep really is like a temporary death though the physical body is not dead. It is not something we should be scared of though for many students it is scary. Even if we experience emptiness/ death in meditation again and again there is always some attachments that remain, there is always a bit of ego we can still get stuck on. I think the final teacher is old age, approaching death, not death itself because by then it is too late.
One might think that a deep realization of our personal emptiness is depressing but it is exactly the opposite because with the realization of emptiness comes the realization of Oneness. I will leave further discussion of this for later. Enjoy the Holidays.