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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 31 and we think we know best about how to make it happen. We try to exert control over the process, and we believe we can find our way to enlighten- ment through acts of will. There is mad discipline and insane persistence on this path, but they’re in the service of some- thing more fruitful than certainty, control, and will. They’re in the service of availability. What- ever happens, you have to just keep showing up. Sit the meditation, attend the retreat, absorb the teachings, face the fear, feel the sorrow, endure the boredom, stay open to the disturbing and also the knee-bucklingly beautiful. When revelation begins to walk toward you, have the courtesy to walk out to meet it. You know the tricks of distraction you play on your- self, so stay alert to them, but don’t allow hyper- vigilance to blind you to the moments when the world comes to call you home. There’s an old story about a man who vowed to meditate until Krishna appeared to him. Moved by his commit- ment, Krishna walked up behind the man and put his hand on his shoulder. Without turning around, the man cried, “Go away! I’m waiting for Krishna!” Just keep showing up, no matter what, with an open mind and a whole heart. Allow your allegiance to be turned from the habits of exile to the promise of home, naturally. Make yourself unconditionally available, and trust that enlight- enment will find you. The metaphors we use can powerfully shape what we imagine awakening to be. My own Zen tradition has lots of descriptions, like wielding the sword and penetrating the mystery, that we’d be forgiven for confusing with exercises of will. Enlightenment is likened to a lightning bolt or a sudden flash of sparks, something instantaneous and bright. But what happens when we listen to other voices with very different ways of describ- ing the same thing? Here is Qiyuan Xinggang, a seventeenth-century Chinese nun, being ques- tioned by her teacher: When Qiyuan Xinggang awakened, her teacher asked her, “What was it like as you gestated the spiritual embryo?” She replied, “It solidified, deep and solitary.” “When you gave birth, what was that like?” “Being stripped completely naked.” “What about when you met the Ancestor?” “I met the Ancestor face to face.” Milarepa by Otgonbayar Ershuu In these spare quiet words is a sense of enlight- enment growing in the dark, both autonomous and contained within us—something not in our control but asking our full attention. And then we’re stripped of everything we’ve depended on, including self-will, so we can meet the real with nothing intervening. This evocation of awak- ening as a kind of pregnancy that allows us to “become intimate” is something many people, women and men alike, recognize from their own experience. Still, the language of light and illumination is everywhere. “Mind is not mind,” the Perfec- tion of Wisdom Sutra says. “The nature of mind is clear light.” In moments of revelation, what are the qualities of light that are so powerful? There’s the sense that everything is unified and equal in this radiance. At the same time, each thing is so particular and so alive in the way it’s