Goso said, “When you meet a Man of the Tao on the road, greet him not with words, nor with silence. Tell me, how will you greet him?”
What is a man of the Tao? Who is a person of the Way? Is it a practitioner, a meditator? Is she good, bad, outrageous? Does she live according to the precepts? However you define the person of the Way, it’ll be a construct. So if you consider yourself a person of the Tao, a person of the Way, you’re certainly not that, because it’s become part of your persona, part of your identity, another concept to hold on to.
Emperor Wu of Liang asked the great master Bodhidharma,What is the highest meaning of the holy truths? Bodhidharma said, Vast emptiness, no holiness. The Emperor, probably taken aback, said, Who is facing me? And Bodhidharma replied, I don’t know. He did not reply, A man of the Tao. He did not say that he was a Buddhist or a seeker. He said, I don’t know. Everything else is just another label. Be careful about adding a head to your head.
Lee Lozowick, an American Baul teacher, wrote a poem. Here is one verse from the poem:
If you want to imagine God,
you may get away with it very
inexpensively--only act like
your mind is untroubled,
act like it’s “all one” and suffering is an illusion.
But if you want to meet the Creature face
To Face, ah, sighs lee--
you must be prepared to be
misunderstood by your intimates,
ostracized by your friends,
shunned by the worldly.
For me, meeting a person of the Tao is meeting God. So to meet God, what do you do? Act like your mind is untroubled, act like it’s “all one” and suffering is an illusion? Hide behind Buddhist words and concepts? Or do you hide behind meditation, silent retreats, facing the wall? Do you hide behind silence? Do you ask God, or the person of the Tao, to wait an hour till you do your sitting and get centered? You think the person of the Tao will wait for that?
What do you want? To be head of the class, to stand out, be admired for the right answers? Or do you want to meet the person of the Tao face to face? Do you want to meet the essence? Because if you do, that other stuff won’t work; it’ll have to be short-circuited.
On the Sunday when we had the Beginner’s Mind Introduction to Meditation I talked of the difficulty of letting go of reflective self-consciousness, of letting go of the stories we hold on to. I recalled my own experience when, after several years of sitting, it finally hit me what was being demanded of me: to let go of the stories and ideas that I had so painstakingly built up and found refuge in—for what? For emptiness? For opening up to a world I had no control over, no way of manipulating or handling, a reality that could almost arbitrarily be horribly black or in the pink or just boringly blah?
It’s important to acknowledge why that is so difficult. The identity and ego structure that we build up form the basis for our interaction with the world. We build them as a defense against a life we can’t control or even get a minimal handle on. Without them we feel vulnerable and helpless.
During the course of our life, we are ready to change our stories. We may start out with a story of victimhood, of having a powerless childhood and an abysmal past. With therapy and other forms of help, we change the story to a more integrated one of adulthood and taking responsibility for the life we are leading. As we become even older, past career and family, we will change our story again. But give them up altogether? Give up this boundary between myself and the world? That’s a very courageous act.
A dharma brother of mine, in giving his take on the term enlightenment, emphasized taking things lightly. Bear witness to life, and instead of holding on for dear life, hold things lightly. We have so much, how can we carry less? How can we behave without self-consciousness? How can we be simple? The Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness says:
Practice intimately, working within,
As though a fool, like an idiot.
How do we practice like that? Our natural state is one of simple joy. We don’t get that state through gaining and holding on; we rediscover it by letting go. As the Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness says:
When erroneous imaginations cease,
The acquiescent mind realizes itself.
How do we stay awake to everything? How are we wholeheartedly present? How do we not give in to torpor? When we have a story that runs us, torpor doesn’t appear. The half hour of sitting zips by as we remain fascinated by our drama. Letting go of that feels duller, less interesting. But please remember, we don’t let go of it for the sake of some nihilistic emptiness or nothingness, but for the sake of coming in touch with the infinite—infinite potential, infinite creativity.
It’s courageous to let go of the idea or drama that contains what I think to be the great meaning of my life in order to experience the blank white page of the writer, the blank slate to be filled by any story, any idea. We don’t discover the meaning of our life, we create it. In rejecting our main story, we become free to write a new one, and a new one after that, and a new one after that. The meaning of our lives lies not outside of us, to be uncovered; we create it, moment by moment. As Bodhidharma said, Vast emptiness, no holiness. There is no one truth, there is no meaning. When I let go of inherent truth, I give myself the freedom to imagine anything.
The wooden black Kannon that was at the Farm is now in back of our house, right by the tree line of the woods, looking out at the grass, the outdoors chairs, the squirrels and gophers and dogs. The other day I walked past her towards the tool shed, and happened to glance at the moist dirt behind her, and there were tracks. Not of small, scampering animals, but of the bare toes of Kannon making her nightly visitations. The whole world, my entire life, speaks to her endless work; the tracks in the dirt were all her.