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Buddhadharma : Fall 2012
44 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 2 I’ve seen 4'33" in many locations and circumstances. At Carnegie Hall in New York, pianist Margaret Leng Tan theatrically raised her arms over the piano keyboard. Her descending hands halted just above the keys. The well-trained audience froze, respectfully. The overheated room seemed to have soaked up all the music ever played within its walls. At the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, on Fifth Avenue, I slipped through a door into the garden. On a green lawn enclosed by a low wall that did nothing to keep out the roar of Manhattan, a percussion ensemble got the message and stood with their hands folded and their heads slightly bowed. A traffic helicop- ter whacked by overhead. Taxi drivers leaned on their horns. At the Maverick Hall in Woodstock, recitalist Pedja Muzijevic stepped to the stage and took David Tudor’s former seat at the piano. Muzijevic, whose path has led him from Sarajevo to the touring pianist’s universe, introduced 4'33": “The rea- son we do anything from the past is because it has application to the present. The whole interest of ‘nothing coming at you’ is so different now than it was in 1952.” We are bombarded now, he said. He sat, unmoving, without lifting his hands or changing position. Everyone simply sat silently with him, gratefully. [Cage] [E]veryday life is more interesting than forms of celebration, when we become aware of it. That when is when our intentions go down to zero. Then suddenly you notice that the world is magical. We observe that 4'33" is always itself, and it’s always wide open to everything. This apparent paradox is actually the piece’s perfection. It gives perfect freedom to performers, even though they may misunderstand and misinterpret. And it gives a perfect opening to people, who will unfailingly reveal who they are: arrogant, dis- missive, argumentative and/or peaceful, accepting, reverent. The sarcastic comments on YouTube in response to the Barbican’s performance of 4'33" are a case in point. Having seen the emptiness of ego noise, however, we are unruffled. Even the flaming rage of the anonymous Woodstock letter writer takes its place in a world of shadows. Zero = Infinity In Suzuki’s world—the world of Hua-yen Buddhism and the Heart Sutra—zero is a metaphor for shunyata. As Suzuki said in Third Series, shunya = zero. Shunyata, then, is zero magnified to a universal principle, a statement about the Absolute. Suzuki doesn’t say much about zero in Third Series, and he probably didn’t devote much time to it in the first classes at Columbia, since he was rushing to pres- ent the complex teachings of the Flower Garland Sutra and the Heart Sutra. But at other times, according to people who attended his Columbia course, he would devote whole class sessions to zero. And he did write about zero elsewhere, in an article he prepared for Zen and the Birds of Appetite, a little book by the American Catholic monk Thomas Merton: Metaphysically speaking, it is the mind that realizes the truth of Emptiness, and when this is done it knows that there is no self, no ego, no Atman [an eternal ego