Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lost Amidst Landmarks

Don't know why, but my fingers started telling me that they wanted to type something while i was fixing dinner so let's sit down now that it's ready and see what they come up with. I apologize in advance if it turns out to be wasting our time.

Long ago i wrote about a wonderful mini-story that i found in writings of Anthony de Mellow, called The Temple Bells. There is so, so much more i want to write about that but i think i'll do that over the course of 2012. What i'm fascinated with tonight is the comment near the end of that post made by that senile old man i know in Chicago who runs a web site about the pilgrimage.

In the post he said, "Do you wish to hear Shikoku's temple bells? Listen to the sound of being." On the one hand, that sounds so simple; almost as if we should reply, "Duh. Well, yeah. That's it?" Then on the other hand, it makes me stop and wonder: what is the sound of being, exactly? If you are in the state he talks about where you can hear it, are there sounds to be heard? Is there anyone there to hear anything?

The Heart Sutra starts by getting directly to the point: Kanjisai bossa gyō jin hannya haramita ji shō ken go un kai kū. While in that place where the bells can be heard, Kannon-sama saw straight to the heart of the matter and understood that not just everything we perceive is empty, but even the five aggregates themselves are empty. Completely. So completely that he very carefully negates even those things that we take as absolutely certain, completely non-questionable: mu gen ni bi zesshin i, mu shiki shō kō mi soku hō. No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind, no form, sound, smell, taste, tactile sensations, or mind objects.

But we all know that's pure nonsense. Don't we? If i poke you in the eye you are going to scream in pain. If i shout in your ear i might break an eardrum. If someone farts on the train everyone pretends they don't notice even though everyone cringes. Just the thought of fresh sushi begins the process of drooling. I know it will be delicious. You can't tell me that we don't exist.

But given all that, given all that intertwined certainty and doubt, given all the evidence to the contrary, what does life look like from that place where you can hear "the sound of being?" What does life look like when we come to see that everything we see, everything we hear, everything we smell, taste, feel, think, imagine, ... everything, with no exceptions, is unreal, is a figment of our imagination?

What does life look like when we see that the universe and everything in it, or even grander than that, everything that ever was, is, and ever will be, is a construct of our minds. Our universe, our world, our lives are something we make up moment by moment, breath by breath, born with each moment we conveniently call now, passing away into that void we will never understand, and being reborn in the next now.

When Dave's gone, when even Lao's gone, when being male is gone, when every label i've every attached to myself is gone, when all thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and preferences are gone, when walking or sitting or standing or lying down is gone, when living or not living is gone, when existing or not exiting is gone, when you can look Joshu in the eye and ask him where that stupid mu came from, when there is no difference in anything, not because there is nothing, but because everything is, well, everything, there just is, existing, being, as it is, as it always has, as it always will, even when the universe ceases to exist,... being, is... no more and no less because there is no such thing as no more and no less.

What then? What would the sound of that be?

I maintain that you can hear it on the henro trail. You can start to listen for it at the temples if you have this weird idea that spirituality is found at temples and that monks have some kind of special insight into hearing. Sure, start there — but know that the background noise there can be pretty loud. Once you have trained your ears, your eyes, your fingers, your tongue, your nose, even the slightest bit, then you are better off listening between the temples where it is much more conducive to understanding, or not; amongst the car and truck traffic, amidst the crowded restaurants, amidst the hectic meals at the minshuku each night.

And after your meal, stick your head outdoors and look at the stars that fill the night sky on Shikoku and say, "i hear you."

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