… yet, in vain, we continue to issue words.
I am rereading Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, by Peter Matthiessen. One chapter is an account of his journey to the land of Dolpo on the Tibetan plateau. He later expanded this journal-chapter to create his popular The Snow Leopard.
Throughout the book Matthiessen describes how his teachers and fellow Zen students engage in rigorous, silent meditation. He also describes their conversations, of the type peculiar to practitioners of Zen Buddhism. Typically, the students are full of questions; the teachers, in response (if any, for often they will remain silent), will issue seemingly obscure or nonsensical phrases or ask questions in return, some of which are koans; or, the teacher will even yell at the questioner. There is method underlying these responses.
I perceive a paradox in what I understand of the Zen way. Practitioners and their acolytes are, in varying degrees, seeking what the Sixth Patriarch described “one’s true self”. Seeking is an egoistic activity or path, yet in Zen (and in other Ways) the ego is an illusion.
But let us forgive any perceived logical inconsistencies, in ourselves and others. The koan, and other instructions, are issued to avoid, even destroy logical thinking so that one can perceive, intuitively, without words, the oneness of all things.
We are human, not god-like; but each of us has a Buddha, an enlightened one, waiting to emerge or grow from us.
What stimulated this writing, here and now, was the reading of a poem uttered by a Zen teacher upon learning of the death of a revered friend and fellow teacher:
Eighty-nine years, just-as-it-is!
How can I express, right now
The grave importance of this very thing?
Right now. This is all there is.
How can I express it?
Not with words.