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Not knowing is most intimate

Just some thoughts about the essence of our meditation practice.
An exchange between Zen teachers old (9th century China, I believe).


Fayan was going on pilgrimage.

Dizang said, "Where are you going?"

Fayan said, "Around on pilgrimage."

Dizang said, "What is the purpose of pilgrimage?"

Fayan said: "I don't know."

Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."


This points to the essence of our meditation practice. When we sit and settle our body and begin to explore that unique space that opens up when we close our eyes, the tactile dimension of pure body sensations, the sonic realm of sounds arising and passing in the tropical coolness of early evening or morning, and the mental landscape of memories and chatter, can we just be present with life just as it is in this moment?


This opening and letting be reveals our essential innocence. An innocence of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and opinions. Suzuki Roshi called this "beginner's mind." Here is his line from his book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind'.  


"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."


Beginner's mind is just to be present to explore and observe and take in things as they are. I am reminded of beginner's mind many times a day being a dad to our four year old Kupai and our eight year old Uila. There is this simple curiosity and fascination kids have with things we adults take for granted and even label "concrete thinking." Sitting in his car seat Kupai asked us the question many parents hear dozens of times a day "why?" It could have been a why that arose in his mind when we were talking about needing to get to the ATM, or the gas station. One of us asked him "Did you say why again?" He replied, "No I didn't say why again, I said why."


Meditation is more about the simple open ended question of a four year old -- why? But in our case we let go of the need, the compulsion, for an answer, and simply rest in the asking. In this resting we relax into the curiosity and wonder and amazement of a four year old child.

Can we live our lives this way? Meditation is an invitation to regard all of the aspects of our lives with beginner's mind.


We all have a hard time doing this as we have acquired habits of fixing, holding and controlling life. Children begin to lose this innocence, and I can see this process now in our eight year old. We all want to know and have the power we think comes from knowing.


Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."


In meditation we allow ourselves to be intimate with ourselves. Meditation reveals how many fixed ideas and opinions we have. How much judgment, expectation, and how much preconception we carry around with us all the time.


There's another old Zen story that I like very much. A monk comes to the monastery of  Zhaozhou and asks for teaching. The master asks him, "Have you had your breakfast?" The monk says that he has. "Then wash your bowls," is the teacher's reply, and the only instruction he offers.


Zhaozhou wants to bring the monk down to the immediate present moment, as if saying "Don't look for some profound metaphysical or yogic instructions here. Be present to this moment."


But we seem to be looking for something other than what's right here in this moment. This moment is often seen as a barrier to overcome so that we can at some later moment get whatever it is we thought we were looking for when we got into this meditation stuff. But at some point it begins to dawn on us that there is no other moment.

Then everything becomes very simple. We sit with awareness of the body, or the breath. We let thought and feeling come up but we don't make a big deal out of anything. We let whatever comes up to come up naturally, without resistance. Stuff comes up, and we appreciate it, and we let it go. We don't get tangled up in a web of complication. As we sit this way, judgments begin to fall away. We allow ourselves to fully be who we are. And we realize we are profoundly happy.


Dizang said, "Not knowing is most intimate."

Aloha Sangha, Honolulu, Hawai'i
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