this silence

Zazen is the right gate for entering the Buddha-dharma.  But the Buddha-dharma is actually human life.  So this zazen is not an exclusive practice; it is the most fundamental practice for all sentient beings.  For instance, when you really want to know who you are or what the real significance of human life, human suffering, pleasure, Buddhist teaching is, very naturally you come back to silence.  Even though you don’t want to, you return to an area of no-sound.  It cannot be explained, but in this silence you can realize, even if only dimly, what the real point is that you want to know.  Whatever kind of question you ask or whatever you think, finally you have to return to silence.  This silence is vast; you don’t know what it is.

from Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri

The larger questions of life and death tend to escape me.  In my practice, I find myself circling around on questions that are about the relational aspects of practice.  If there is good to be done eventually, universes on the brink of disaster to be saved, I think it will come as a side effect of saving relationships.  This is probably the toughest part of practice for me: dropping under the conceptual frameworks and experiencing the relational.

I remember two occasions when I felt a profound clarity of connection.  The first happened when I was about 8 or 9 years old.  Every year, the local schools got together for a sort of “religious career day.”  Students would dress up in the various robes of their school’s religious orders and stand in a diorama of some form of service.  It was all meant to inspire but my brother was already on his way to being a priest so I had little interest in following any religious life path.  My parents, on the other hand, were staunch supporters of school events and attended each one with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal visit.  Bored and frustrated, I followed them through the buzz of the crowds going from display to display, just pushing the limits of willful sullenness.  Then I saw her: a young girl not much older than I was, dressed in a nun’s habit with a backdrop symbolizing the missionary work of the Methodist Church.  Our eyes connected and she smiled.  That’s all.  No angel music, no light show, no out-of-body experiences.  Just a clarity of vision in that look we exchanged in a room that had become totally silent to my ears.

There would be other times when I experienced this clarity of vision in the other across a room.  In a moment’s connection, something was shared that I cannot describe or reproduce in myself, by myself.  I’ve realized that it had nothing to do with the props: the nun’s habit, the room, the rituals, even the eye contact.  These were ingredients that allowed something to emerge and the world to quiet.  When it first happens, I feel a jolting fear that something is about to be lost, that I’ve arrived too late.  It’s taken a very determined practice to stay only with the connection and not fall into the fear of what might have been lost already.

Thank you for practicing,


Next: vision of service

3 thoughts on “this silence

  1. Zen Master Seung Sahn used to encourage his students to perceive “correct condition, situation, and relationship.”

    Correct condition means “how am I just now?”
    Correct situation means “what is the truth of this moment?”
    Correct relationship means “how can I help you?”

    Of these, I struggle most with correct relationship, perhaps because it involves the dynamic, fluid exchange of intention and action. And I so easily get stuck . . .

  2. Arriving too late strikes a chord. All this time on this earth and it’s just now I start to feel like I’m starting something near to beginning. Like a dark room that has shadows that appeared to be real but then a little more light and the shadows all changed dimensions. Even so every bit of this light opens the way.

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