Thursday, January 13, 2011

For those of you keeping score at home, I finally made it out of my neighborhood today and went to work. The roads were passable but not great, and the worst roads were indeed those right in front of my house.

So where was I before being interrupted by all that snow and cold? Oh, yes, the story of Bodhidharma. We left the venerable ancestor sitting in a cave, facing a wall, where he remained for nine years. I expressed concern that the reader would wonder "and then what?" in consideration of the usual narrative conventions, just as we so often miss the present moment in our own lives wondering what next will happen to us. For Bodhidharma, however, there was no "and then," there was just each individual moment of just sitting.

Regarding this practice, I've been asked:
I’m wondering if one can help but impose meaning onto the world when the language centres of a person’s brain are active. When you are not thinking is there any meaning? Or perhaps we might say that when you have inner silence and presence then whatever you happen to be doing is the meaning, is the point.
Good comment, and I think the point was well made in that final sentence. When we are quietly sitting in zazen, practicing silence and not minding our inner monologue, our action does not "represent" a meaning, our action (or rather, non-action) is the meaning, and that meaning is, in turn, our non-action. The "meaning" of non-action is non-action. Practice is enlightenment, and enlightenment transcends dualistic concepts of "meaning" and "non-meaning" or "meaninglessness."

The word "meaning," the concept of "meaning," is itself just a product, a construct, of the mind, which is to say, a thought. When we are in a state of non-thinking, there is neither meaning nor non-meaning, things are neither meaningful nor meaningless. Meaning, non-meaning, meaningfulness and meaninglessness are all just concepts, ideas, thoughts - ephemeral phenomena with no concrete reality to themselves, or at least no more concrete reality than we choose to give to them.

To ask what is the meaning of life is altogether a misunderstanding. Life is neither meaningful nor meaningless, life itself is beyond such arbitrary distinctions of the mind. Sitting in zazen for fifteen or twenty-five or forty-five minutes, or for nine years, has no "meaning," but that does not condemn it to "meaningless." Rather, it frees us from the distinction of "meaningful" and "meaningless" and therefore directly expresses our actual lives. How liberating!

So let's let Bodhidharma sit there for a little longer and in a day or two, rather than impose an "and then" upon him, I will tell a different story about a different individual that will come to incorporate Bodhidharma and his practice in the cave as a character. That may resolve my dilemma about how to continue "his" story without continuing his "story."

No comments: