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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
30 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 always seen us in our truest form, and now we’re aware of what that is. Trying to describe all this is pretty much a fool’s errand, which is why people have always enlisted poems and paintings and offers of cups of tea as invitations to see the original face of something before our judgments and opinions about it kick in. Rilke once said with apprecia- tion that Cezanne painted not “I like this” but “Here it is.” The enlightening revelation is “Here it is” writ large and complete, but it happens by way of the most commonplace moments. In the old stories it was the tok of a stone hitting bam- boo or the sudden appearance of cherry blossoms across a ravine; today it might be hearing an ad on the radio or seeing a crumpled beer can on a forest path. “There is another world,” Paul Eluard said, “and it is inside this one.” The key to seeing that other world seems to be letting something, anything, speak to us without inter- rupting it with our habits of exile. The Chinese have an image for how enlighten- ing revelation is inextricable from the things of this earth: one heart-mind with two gates. The first gate opens to the vastness, while the second opens toward compassionate engagement with the world. We walk through the second gate when we dedicate our lives to concern for others. The arc of awakening that leads toward this kind of life is made up of path, revelation, and embodiment. Things tend to go generally in that progression, but these are all aspects of one thing, and they weave in and out of each other. I mentioned that we can imagine enlightenment as an absolute threshold, and this is true in the sense that we can’t believe in our delusions as we did before; they’re no longer capable of binding us to their limited view of reality. But they still arise, because it’s part of the nature of the human heart-mind to generate them. The difference is that we see them for what they are, and can even feel a warm compassion for them. The teachings speak of a single enlightened thought as being the whole of enlightenment, and a single deluded thought as the whole of delusion. This acknowledges that we’re capable of both, but however seductive the desire to sort our thoughts into separate piles of enlightenment and delusion and then choose one over the other, that isn’t the offer. Instead, it’s to get underneath the self-centered, operational realm of sorting and choosing and to sink back into the place from which all thoughts arise—sometimes appearing as distorted thoughts, sometimes as clarifying ones. It’s a truer place to rest, and a humbler one. We still have bodies that break down in all sorts of amazing ways. We still face injustice and conflict. Awakening isn’t a waiver from the shared circumstances of human life. But it does radically transform how we experience them. We are no longer beleaguered exiles but now people at home even in the most difficult times, searching for ways to respond that encourage the bursting forth of the enlightenment that is present always and everywhere. There’s a story about Tolstoy that speaks to this fundamental shift from self-centeredness to all-centeredness, when we see the self as infinitely large, taking in all others. Tolstoy and Chekhov were on a walk in the spring woods when they encountered a horse. Tolstoy began to describe how the horse would experience the clouds, trees, smell of wet earth, flowers, sun. Chekhov exclaimed that Tolstoy must have been a horse in a previous life to know in such detail what the horse would feel. Tolstoy laughed and said, “No, but the day I came across my own inside, I came across everybody’s inside.” A great deal has been said about walking the path of awakening, including practices that show us our habits of exile and how our allegiance can turn away from them toward more spacious and generous lives. So I’ll just mention one thing that relates to taking on a day-to-day practice of enlightenment. Especially early on, most of us still have a lot of self-centeredness, by which I mean belief in the absolute reality of the self and the primacy of its concerns and reactions. One of the bemusing results is that here we are, hoping for an event which by its nature is unprecedented, While what we awaken to is the same for all of us, how we awaken and express that awakening in our lives is endlessly idiosyncratic and gives the world its texture.