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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
JIRYU RUTSCHMAN-BYLER 33 We might want to say the breath is there, but even to call it “breath” is not quite right—that’s precisely the kind of “object- oriented thought process” that Zhiyi is saying is suspended at this point. Here, there is just stillness and perfect silence. So are we done? Are we “effortless” yet? On some level, yes. But the teaching of Zhiyi and many other Buddhist teachers, ancient and modern, is that at this stage we have yet to address the knots in the mind. Our effort really has stopped, but there isn’t yet any true clarity beneath it. We’ve suspended the agitated mind but haven’t transformed it; when we stand up, we will still be deluded. We’re what Vipassana teacher Larry Rosenberg calls “calm fools.” Furthermore, as Zhiyi points out, the reason we are so calm is simply that the conditions have lined up for a while to support our concentration. Probably the room was quiet, or the light was dim enough. But inevitably the conditions will change, and as a result the concentration will break. We may have mastered finding calm in this silent sitting among comfortable surroundings, but we have not seen into reality, haven’t learned the tools or insights that will allow us to live as liberated beings no matter the conditions that befall us. So in Zhiyi’s telling, somewhere in the midst of our enjoyment of this profound stillness, it occurs to us that we are only halfway up the mountain, that there is no real or lasting wisdom present. And we realize that in the absence of transformative wisdom, this deep calm, wonderful as it is, is just a subtler form of the attachment that keeps us bound in suffering. We see that it is time to wake the mind back up and to turn on the inquiring capacity that Bhikshu Dharmamitra translates as “illuminating intelligence.” This marks the well-known turn from shamatha to vipassana, from practice centered on calming and stability to practice centered on inquiry and insight. While it may feel like a detour on the path to the effortless, Zhiyi’s next two gates express and celebrate this renewal of effort. Who counted, who followed, who stopped, who contemplated? We allow the breath to draw us into that fundamental question of the spiritual life: “Who am I, really?”