In the cosmic, grand scheme of things, our lives don’t mean a whole lot. Or they are the most important thing in the world. Somehow both things are true.
In Zen Buddhism, paradoxes like the above run abound. Koans, little paradoxical anecdotes which are central to Zen, try to make sense of the Now through language. Koans fascinate me because they do not make logical sense. The Truth of Dharma or existence cannot be grasped by language. And any intellectual attempt to do so falls short. As the old Buddhist proverb goes, “don’t mistake the finger for the moon.”
I often mistake the finger for the moon. What do I mean by that? I mean that I am filled with ideas about what life should be like. I am in my head planning and thinking about the future. I am not that present, although because of mindfulness practices, I am more present than I have ever been. And many times, I am a self-centered bastard, but less so than ever.
The Buddhist concept of emptiness is something I grapple with daily. Everything is empty of inherent existence. What the fuck does that mean ha? It’s hard to even explain. Words don’t do it justice. Everything is a product of the mind. We discriminate with language, with our senses, with our likes and dislikes. We are constantly projecting our fears and desires onto reality. But reality just is. I am reminded of this koan as I reflect on emptiness:
“A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax, “What is Buddha?”
Tozan said: “This flax weighs three pounds.”
Our understanding of ourselves is like this koan. We search for big answers everywhere. We want to understand. We want meaning. We want to feel safe, secure, understood. We project and project and project. We hold on for dear life because we are scared all the time. So we ask for answers. But the answer is simple: three pounds of flax.
To me, this means, enlightenment is not special. It is the world of everyday life. It is not some grand mystical experience where I turn into some powerful God. It is extinguishing desire. It is extinguishing the self. It is to see the inherent illusion in everything. It is finally seeing that three pounds of flax are the most important thing in the world, yet somehow not important at all.
I understand this conceptually, and intellectually And sometimes I even understand it experientially. But the second I try to grasp and feel that “I” understand, it somehow eludes me. The understanding is nothing other than being awake moment to moment, constantly letting go of the self-centered nature of the self. It means to let go of “I,” so I can be just a little more compassionate and loving toward myself, my patients, and my friends and family. What else is there?
Some of you will argue that there is prestige and money and success and career and accomplishment. I hate to be dismissive, but no. None of that will save you. It is Maya, illusion that you mean something. Freedom and true peace come from letting go. Will you join me on that journey?