Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stillness, Silence, Truth


Stillness, silence, truth – just like the words to that Beatles song: “These are words that go together well, my Michelle.” Stillness, silence, truth – I knew the first two as a child and completely took the third for granted. After all, we need not have a word for air in order to breathe it deeply so that it may become us. Stillness, silence, truth – this was what I spoke of in Returning To The Source. The Buddha innately knew it as a child, and so did I. (And I suspect that you did, too.) No…, it is not so much a matter of knowing it as being it – stillness, silence, truth. It is what the Buddha returned to after a long and arduous search, and it is what I now return to (albeit, with varying degrees of clarity) each time I sit zazen – stillness, silence, truth.
 

 
A spider actualizes his understanding of Indra's Net

  


“Zazen is the most venerable and only true teacher.”

 
This was the second of seven points of practice laid out by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi in the last formal talk he gave as abbot of Antaiji monastery. Does it sound radical to you? It is my contention that the deeper your understanding becomes of stillness, silence, truth, the less radical it will sound.

 

We usually have some authority figure on whom we can rely – to answer our questions…, to guide us along the path…, to show us the right way to ring the bells or light the incense or chant the sutras…, to tell us whether or not we’re “okay”. And even if we don’t have such an authority figure close at hand, we nonetheless assume that one exists ‘out there’ somewhere who knows the so-called “right way” to be or the “right way” to do all things. Yes, in this age of so-called experts and authorities on everything under the sun it might sound radical – perhaps even arrogant or egotistical – to contend that your true teacher is never farther away from you than you are from yourself. And yet this statement is very much in tune with what Dogen Zenji articulated in his Bendowa more than 750 years ago; namely: “[P]racticing zazen [seated meditation] in an upright posture is the true gate” (Okumura, 1997, p. 19). Indeed, it is very much in tune with stillness, silence, truth.

 

Please read my previous post, Throwing Away Your Toys, if you’d like some additional background prior to proceeding. In it I take a little time to expound upon my experience and understanding of Uchiyama Roshi’s philosophy of “sesshins without toys.” For our present purposes, however, we can state simply enough that his Antaiji-style meditation retreats – his sesshins without toys – are extended periods during which one has about as much freedom as is humanly possible to plumb the depths of stillness, silence, truth.

 

“Zazen is the most venerable and only true teacher.”

 

When we sit zazen, we are entering into a posture that allows for long periods of physical stillness accompanied by mental alertness. When we are properly folded into one of the lotus or Burmese postures we can sit in stillness for an hour or even more with the rising and falling of our diaphragm being the only movement that we make. This stillness is of utmost importance, for it is only after entering into physical stillness that mental stillness becomes possible. After all, each movement, no matter how small, is a persistent little voice in the back of our heads reminding us: “Here I am! I’m practicing zazen!” Such dualistic thinking must fall away in order for us to become zazen. See Mind Is What The Body Does for more on the relationship between body and mind.

 

As the body becomes more and more still and the mind becomes more and more still, we become more and more in tune with the silence permeating the entire universe – silence that is present even in the midst of the most “violent” supernova. This stillness and silence is the truth of our zazen; indeed, it is the truth of the entire universe. As I described in Unconditioned Peace:

Usually we exist in a state in which we are buffeted by the winds of craving and aversion born of our karma-driven existence. When we bring our habit energy to a halt, though, these winds become still. Think of a candle flame burning brightly in a room without any breezes or disturbance. Such a still flame illuminates the entire room without casting false shadows. In such a state all is seen clearly, all is at peace – unconditioned peace.

 

You Call That Truth?

 

I’m anticipating the objections: Stillness, silence, truth – what kind of truth is that? Where’s the beef? At least The Four Noble Truths give us something on which to hang our hats. Dependent Origination, likewise, gives us something on which to chew. Even the teachings on emptiness offer us something of a glimpse into The Nature Of Things. Stillness, silence, truth – what are we supposed to do with that?... Yes, and those are the objections from the Buddhists in the room!

 

We all have preconceived notions regarding what truth should look like, don’t we? Religiously oriented individuals, for instance, tend to think of truth as something to be found amongst the pages of the holy books or issuing forth from the lips of the wisest of men and women. Scientific-minded folks, on the other hand, are generally pre-disposed to think of truth as something to be determined by keenly observing the properties of things and the relationships amongst them. And then we have those of an existentialist or humanist bent who are inclined to think of truth as something to be found within the circumstances of the very life that we live, or something to be created by the sheer force of will itself. So what is your sense of this thing called truth? And what does it mean within that context to contend that:

 

“Zazen is the most venerable and only true teacher.”

  

Indeed, some truths are too deep and profound for even the most articulate of teachings to convey. And so we lower ourselves carefully down our rope ladder of words, deeper and deeper into unplumbed truth, deeper and deeper into the ineffable. And when we get to the end of our ladder of words, the only thing left to do is let go and allow ourselves to free fall into the depths of stillness, silence, truth.

Do these words leave you wanting? I’ve nothing more to say…
 
 
 
Please see Now, In Entering Into Zen for instruction on how to sit zazen.

 
 

References

Okumura, S., Leighton, T. D. (1997). The wholehearted way: A translation of Eihei Dogen’s Bendowa with commentary by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi. Tuttle Publishing. (Original work published 1231)

Uchiyama, K. (1993). Opening the hand of thought. (Tr. by Okumura, S. and Wright, T.) Published by the Penguin Group.

 

Image Credits

Spider web at sunrise by Luc Viatour via:


 

Copyright 2012 by Maku Mark Frank

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