[Image from North Dakota State University]
I had plans for another post today, in light of a fellow blogger nominating me for a Liebster Award. But a night at a Franciscan retreat center has prompted me to write something a little different.
Since I first learned about Buddhism in high school, I’ve been interested in it. I still remember filling out answers to the Four Noble Truths on quizzes in the front of my ninth grade class, alongside sanskrit terms.
Since then, I’ve come a long way.
An independent study in Buddhist philosophy, numerous books, a few meditation retreats, and a daily meditation practice that lasted a few years have all increased my awareness in Buddhism, especially Zen.
But two winters ago, my interest culminated in a three day retreat at a Zen monastery in the Catskills. I still recall the final day of the retreat. After the exhausting stints of 5 a.m. zazen meditation and work projects–where I silently cracked over a hundred eggs–we concluded with a koan and a dharma talk by the sensei. The koan was about the diamond sutra, a central text in Mahayana Buddhism, called “diamond” because a true understanding allows one to cut through illusion and ignorance like a diamond.
The sensei brought up the ending of the sutra itself:
“So I say to you -
This is how to contemplate our conditioned existence in this fleeting world:”
“Like a tiny drop of dew, or a bubble floating in a stream;
Like a flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
Or a flickering lamp, an illusion, a phantom, or a dream.”
“So is all conditioned existence to be seen.”
Thus spoke Buddha.
Building on the Buddhist notion of impermanence–that life contains unceasing flux and change–the sensei stressed our need to “leave no footprints” as we moved through life, negotiating the tricky balance of “equanimity,” a peaceful abiding between aversion and desire that does not fall into indifference. Life is indeed brief. It is full of change and interdependence. Like a dream, things come and go.
Sitting in zazen position, legs folded and “heart open,” I felt a change. Buddhism traditionally has different levels of understanding, ranging from the merely intellectual to the silent but sure understanding of an Enlightened one. Somewhere between lies a heart understanding, where one truly “feels” a new insight that cannot fit into words.
In the midst of the dharma talk, I felt that insight.