Over the last couple of years I’ve found a shifting in my interior life.
As a Zen practitioner I’ve been focused for many years on the profound and subtle pointing expressed succinctly within the Heart Sutra: Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. It is an approach to that religious perspective generally tagged as nondual. And I believe it contains the great secret of our lives, our past, our future.
Within Zen we find a perspective somewhat different than in other nondual traditions. And we find it within that expression of an exact identity of form and emptiness, of our lives in this world and some profoundly inseparable, wild, and ultimately unnamable openness.
Fronting these twin truths has been the project. My principal tools have been zazen, just sitting, and koan introspection. Other things as well, especially in past and now recent years exploring the rhythms of life as a Zen priest. And, of course, there have been the eruptions of the heart that have further pointed my life. Whether they’re the product of those practices, I cannot say. But, they feel connected.
So, that said, the shift. It comes out of something that is also captured within the Mahayana expression of the Buddhist way, the Three Bodies. One is Nirmanakaya, the realm of history and causality. Another is the Dharmakaya, the realm of the absolute or vast empty. And, the third is the Sambkogakaya, the realm of miracle. Or, as I see it the realm of dream and story.
In this third place the absolute and the phenomenal meet, and there are eruptions, perhaps disruptions of time and space, but absolutely disruptions of our sense of what is. For me those disruptions manifest as a decentering of my ego, my sense of self I call “me.” My practices and companions have been working with me steadily for these many years has opened this third place – and it is increasingly where I find I’m living. Sambkogakaya is the decentered place.
For many years I’ve spoken of my physiology of faith. I adapted it from an anecdote they tell about Desiderius Erasmus the great humanist philosopher of the European Renaissance. One Friday some friends came upon him eating a sausage. When chided he replied that while he did indeed have a Catholic heart, he had a Lutheran stomach. for me its become a short hand for how I seem to encounter the world.
I like to say how I have a Buddhist brain, a Christian heart, and a rationalist stomach. That is that I find the basic Buddhist analysis maps the world I’ve experienced, and points me on in critical ways. However, the content of my my dreams come out of my natal tradition, Christianity. I did learn to read out of a King James Bible resting on my grandmother’s lap, after all. But, all it tied together through an essentially rationalist disposition. When moving among my humanist friends I like to say “I’m more rational than you.” And, frequently it turns out, I am.
Back to the shifting. Of late, as I’ve found myself drifting into this decentered reality I find those images out of the Christian tradition really live strong within me. I dream them. I really do. I search for a metaphor and it as likely as not will come from the Bible or the Christian traditions. However. And. But. That pause and shift.
What I’ve seen as well is that I don’t resonate with the central story of the Christian tradition. While I can read almost any story that tries to point to our human condition of hurt and separation with some sympathy, I do not see a soul separate from the universe that embodies that hurt, nor the fix in anything even vaguely like substitutionary atonement. While not the only Christian story about how reconciliation between me and the divine, it is very much the normative one.
I can squint and massage the story and make something comparable with the universe I experience. And, indeed it is that lovely nondual Christianity (for instance or from a more Zen Christian perspective) that is popping up here and there that I find resonates. And. All I have to do is go to any Christian church for a Sunday service to recall this nondual approach, while perhaps the true heart of the tradition, is also not normative.
The first of these marks of our existence is anitya, a noticing that all things are impermanent, existing for a moment and then passing away. The second is anatman, the noticing that nothing has a special essence, all things are composed of parts that are themselves insubstantial, or more accurately have no abiding substance. Things exist within their moments in way similar to the contemporary wave/particle theory, where from one angle quantum entities are particles and from another waves. However, this is a way of perceiving at the psychological/spiritual level of human consciousness, where our grasping tightly after things that have no enduring substance, is dukkha, that sense of discomfort, of sadness, of hurt that seems to mark so much of human existence.
The tradition goes on to suggest the whole universe is dukkha. And, in the sense of rising and falling and without substance, sure. But, for it to be unsatisfactory, well, that takes the addition of grasping. And it is grasping that we humans specialize in. And it is where the mess of what is, the lovely, terrible, great mess of what is shifts. Lately I’ve been calling this rising and falling all without substance, the buzz. Then we humans grab ahold of how one part or another does have substance, is permanent, and it becomes the great hurt.
“Seeing through” all this is the project. Although its such an imperfect word for something so important. Seeing through. Maybe letting go. But, that’s not quite it. Whatever. Not crushing or destroying our egos, an impossible task without also killing the body. Maybe the right word is decentering. Decentering my ego, allowing that impermanent product of causes and conditions its place without trying to hold onto any moment of it as it goes about its business of encounter, rising, and, and, falling.
And, now today. I find myself simply living into my practice and life. I practice as a Zen Buddhist, if, perhaps, of a liberal and rational sort. And, I find much of my inner experience is populated by the stuff of Christianity. More than I would have thought given, well, how I understand the world. And, yes, there is that rational thing, too. This is my little corner of the Great Buzz. Experienced as I experience it.
So, what’s a good word out of all this?
Maybe its to invite the disruptions of what we expect things to be. The mess is just decentered enough for me to find the rise and the fall never fits together, no story captures it fully, no religion or philosophy is complete. And. Perfect as it is. Just as it is.
The great buzz. Dukkha only if I try to hold on to it.
My world. And yours. And, we’re welcome to it.
All we have to do is let go, just for a moment. See through. Decenter…