Often as I’m going around the property, I’m struck by some exquisite natural phenomenon or another – the paperwhites blooming in the winter, the gorgeous rings of a fallen pine tree, the vivacious growth in the Monastery garden – and it becomes apparent to me that “the Buddha” is shining through it all. As Thomas Merton said, “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and the Divine is shining through it all the time.” At those times, writing this article for the newsletter feels easy, inspired, and fluid.
Then, there are times like these.
Lately, as I walk around the Monastery, I’m struck not by exquisite beauty but by projections of violence: the bird that I saw pluck a butterfly out of thin air for its evening meal, the dragonfly consuming a small black bug in the archway, the poison oak vines overtaking a pine tree. I know intellectually that this is just the way it is, the nature of nature, so to speak. Yet witnessing it did not move me to “everything is the Buddha.” Rather, it evoked, “Wow. Nature is really violent.” And every attempt to put a positive or philosophical spin on these events as a way to demonstrate “yes, indeed, this too is the Buddha” fizzled out and resulted in yet another deleted draft of this article.
I’ve learned that whenever writing does not flow smoothly but comes in fits and starts, it is my cue to stop and pay close attention to the process at hand. It’s like finding your car jerking and lurching forward while you are driving. You would pull over and investigate “What is going on here?”
What I found is that there is no philosophical point to be made. Who cares about conditioned mind’s attempt to make sense of life and death? Once we get it that anything conditioned mind puts forth is not worth the time it takes to listen to it, we simply lose interest in what it’s got to say. At that point, we are left with nothing, or better said, “nothingness” -- the space between the thoughts. I sense that the fits and starts of the writing process was that Nothingness calling me to expanded Awareness, or as we say, Authenticity calling to Authenticity. Yes, the lovely paperwhites are the Buddha, and so is the bird eating a butterfly in mid-air. That which puts these occurrences into different categories and registers the world dualistically is what we have the opportunity to transcend in this lifetime.
During these turbulent times, I find comfort in this quote by Joseph Campbell:
The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed.
I’m not really interested in how conditioned mind would try to “make sense” of the events going on in the world. Really, who cares? Has “making sense” to conditioned mind transformed one single life throughout all of time? In my view, the answer would be “no.” Instead, I am for letting the “jerks and lurches” motivate us to stop, get very still, let ourselves know the Authenticity that we are, and from there, truly live “everything is the Buddha.”