Sunday, October 19, 2008


Upon achieving enlightenment, Zen Master Ikkyu wrote the following verse:

For ten years my mind was cluttered with passion and anger.
Even at this moment, I still possess rage and violent emotions.
Yet in the instant that crow laughed, a rakan rose up out of ordinary dust.
In this morning's sunshine, an illumined face sings.

I'll save you the Google search and tell you that a "rakan" is one who has realized nirvana - the Japanese term for the Sanskrit "arhat." He is speaking of himself - in the third person, detached from the ego.

I'm reassured to hear that Ikkyu still possessed rage and violent emotions after his enlightenment, since it's consistent with my understanding of enlightenment - his world was still the same, even he himself was still the same, but he had a new way of seeing this sameness. I'm also reassured because I too feel passion and anger, and as I look into myself I see that these strong emotions are deeply rooted in myself.

These passions have kept me from posting more frequently in this blog as of late. What's the point of writing about my own little problems when it seems the world is on fire with crises and conflict? When our own country is practicing unspeakable acts of extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, suspension of habeus corpus, and unwarranted wiretapping, and Republican candidates are out stating that those who disagree with these tactics are somehow "Un-American"? I try to write about other things, but my conscience screams that other things are more important.

It seems that there are daily outrages to rail against, and yet I had always envisioned Water Dissolves Water to be a calm oasis of wisdom in these troubled times. Is there wisdom in further inflaming these controversies with more rhetoric?

At least Ikkyu would have understood. As, it seems, Rimbaud would have, too.

Arthur Rimbaud, writing his greatest poetry while still an adolescent, was a witness to his own creation of his self, writing, at age 16, "I am present at the explosion of my thought. I watch and I listen to it. I wave the baton; the symphony murmurs from its depths or comes leaping onto the stage.” In a poem, only his second, written at the age of 15, he said,

On a blue summer evening I shall go down the path,
And, brushed by wheat, walk on the fine grass.
Dreaming along, I’ll feel the coolness under my feet
And bathe my bare head in the poetic wind.

I won’t speak, I will not even think,
But infinite love will geyser up in my soul,
And I’ll go far, far away, like a Gypsy
Into the wilds – as happy as if I were with a woman.

Not speaking, not thinking, just experiencing the infinite compassion that wells up from the true, unconditioned "self." And directly observing how we create the self, even as our own creation in turn directs us. Rimbaud famously proclaimed "I am someone else." The former punk-rock musician Richard Hell understood Rimbaud, writing recently in the New York Times Review of Books (and what a long distance he's come, based on that statement alone), "One witnesses one’s invention by life, while one plays oneself like a symphonic conductor, in the meantime dreaming a million dreams . . . The statement of it is thrilling, is uncanny, and it’s words. This is what Rimbaud gives us. There is no limit to his reach, and it doesn’t exceed his grasp.”

Ikkyu would have had a deep distrust for words, while Rimbaud revelled in words and language - at least until he abandoned poetry (at age 20!). But the two were not actually that far apart - for Rimbaud, words and language were the fabric of his reality, while Ikkyu saw that words and language were the fabric of the delusion that passes for reality. Perhaps Rimbaud understood this when he rejected poetry for a more "practical" life as a merchant and adventurer. Experience in place of symbols for the experience.

Perhaps Ikkyu understood that the rage and violent emotions rooted in his personality and behavior were his own creation, even as he moved beyond delusion and into enlightenment. But since it was "he" that had moved beyond delusion and into enlightenment, his rage and violent emotions came along with him.

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