Finally, you will come to a vastness that is like spring water endlessly coming up out of the earth… From where does this spring water come? Not from anyone’s small, individual territory. The water that comes from your territory is limited, not deep. The original nature of your life, or of your study, or of your personality or character is the spring water that comes up from the vastness of the earth. This is where you have to sit down.
from Returning to Silence by Dainin Katagiri
The second time I felt a deep inexplicable connection was during an all-day sitting at a zen center nearby. It was my first all day sitting and I was very scared about my ability to get through it. The first rounds of sitting were fine and then we settled in for the dharma talk. The teacher sat on a raised platform in the middle of the room and his attendants worked around him to set up the microphones, podium and his papers. He simply sat, letting it all happen without directing the push and pull of wires, tables and tablets. When it all seemed almost ready, his personal assistant moved in and gently began to arrange the folds in the teacher’s robes. He straightened the pleats, layered the material around his teacher’s seat and legs, and smoothed the wrinkles of the robe along his back. The teacher sat unmoving, surrendering with complete trust to the ministrations of his assistant. I felt a huge swell of emotion rise from the depth of my body, so intense I thought it would emerge as a gasp or a cry and shatter what had become a thick silence. In dokusan, I tried to explain what I had felt but it was beyond words. I think I only managed to say something about wanting to be “in service like that” to which the teacher replied that it took a lot of time to become a teacher’s personal assistant.
I wasn’t sad or disappointed that he failed to hear what I was trying to say. I’ve come to understand that often in trying to verbalize our experiences of connection, we can convey a neediness, an ambition or a greed. Where before I used to feel offended, now I’ve tried to listen carefully and direct my self-inquiry to clarify my intentions without diminishing the experience itself. The truth is I don’t even think I knew what it was I experienced in these connecting moments. And, delusions are numberless.
I went on to practice in other centers and with other teachers, watchful for these “spring water” experiences. It remains as a marker that there is a vastness beneath the concepts and formulations of practice. Although I’ve not been blessed with the same intensity of connection, in the years of practice which include experiences of deep joy and profound anguish, one thing has remained from both experiences. There is a connection that transcends the gaze and there is a move into service that is beyond any act, singular or collective. Experiencing it cannot be forced through any form of practice. It will not adhere to any rules of engagement. But its presence is always available and always absolute.
Thank you for practicing,