The only superpower is the power of observation.
The only superpower is the power of observation.
Near the place where Zen Master Hakuin lived there happened to be a food store. The owner of the food store had a beautiful unmarried daughter. One day she was found with child. Her parents flew into a rage. They wanted to know the father, but she would not give them the name. After repeated scolding and harassment, she gave up and told them it was the Zen Master. When the child was born they ran to the Zen Master, scolding him with foul tongue, and they left the infant with him. They said to him: “Take care of this child as you’re the father.” The Zen Master said, “Is that so”. That was his only comment.
He accepted the child. He started nourishing and taking care of the child. By this time his reputation had come to an end, and he was an object of mockery. Days ran into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. But there is something called conscience in our human life, and the young girl was tortured by her conscience. She finally disclosed to her parents the name of the child’s real father, a man who worked in a fish market. The parents again flew into a rage. At the same time, sorrow and humiliation tortured the household. They came running to the spiritual Master, begged his pardon, narrated the whole story and then took the child back as they said to him: “You don’t need to take care of this child anymore as you’re not his father.”
His only comment was: “Is that so.”
(Taken, with light editing, from Reps, Paul; Nyogen Senzaki. Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings)
Whether you’re tall or short, attractive or not, wealthy or poor, young or old, spiritually mature or otherwise, the following is nevertheless true, at all times:
(In gratitude to my friend Kara Pecson / from whom I learn much / simply by watching her dance.)
“Since everything is but an ‘apparition’,
Perfect in just being ‘What It Is’ ~ as it is.
Having nothing to do with ‘good’ or ‘bad’,
‘acceptance’ or ‘rejection’ –
You might as well just burst out laughing!”
~ Tibetan Dzogchen master Longchenpa, 1308-1369 AD
I wondered for years why if TW was so effective nobody was as “advanced” as KT was even though there’s now been people doing TW for decades. One day I understood that we were all chasing the end of the rainbow. That day I “graduated.” It was a quiet ceremony. Nobody was informed. I did not receive a special certificate. If I had to put what I learned that day into words it would read like this:
It doesn’t end.
It’s just not a problem that it doesn’t end.
That’s the freedom.
The most amazing thing I learned that day was just how much I was like everyone else:
I’m just as fucked up as the man next door,
I just don’t beat myself up about it as much as he does.
That’s the enlightenment I know.
I notice he beats himself up much less than I do.
Those days he is the enlightened one
and I’m proud to call him
Deep forgiveness for our apparent imperfections.
Deep compassion for our apparent flaws.
A knowing that it’s okay to be just like this.
Even as I try to be a better man with time.
Perfection and Imperfection in perfect harmony.
That is the enlightenment that I know.
Anything that I can compare myself to
Why would that be a fair standard of comparison?
Better to spend my time appreciating
How much of a good friend
I can be to myself.
Focus on what works,
Discard the rest.
Much more than some sort of ‘eternal bliss,’ the end of suffering is a kind of equanimity, a perspective of the sort ‘this, too, shall pass,’ a gentle endurance towards small and large discomforts alike. If those sound like some sobered up (even boring) claims about what freedom looks like in practice, good, because that is the point of this post.
Meditation and self inquiry, dutifully engaged, deliver a taste of this basic freedom, and the miracle, the mind blowing grace of it all, is that THAT IS ENOUGH for us to be able to live a peaceful, joy filled life. The realization of this enoughness can happen in an instant or it may take a lifetime to figure out, and some people die without fully knowing it. It is the veil that separates heaven from hell.
And this realization can’t be promised. No meditation, medication or ’spiritual technique’ can give it. This does not render our practices useless, however. Paraphrasing Joan Halifax Roshi: Enlightenment is an accident. Our practices make us accident-prone.
Blue may learn that it was seeing itself literally in a very limited light and of the futility of trying to strip itself of all blueness. Better to own your own blueness, your own purpleness, your own redness, and so on. All colors have their uses.
Even as these realizations may take place for Blue, it never really ‘transmutates’ to ‘White: ‘White (Enlightenment) is a myth.’ The radiation that ‘Blue‘ is may lose it’s identification with ‘Blueness‘ and then be fully able to see itself as showing up as all wavelengths, and one can call that a ‘truer’ Enlightement, but what’s really important is to be in touch with the fact that one shows up as blue, sometimes, red, sometimes, and so on. And that’s the part that is really important: to be in touch with how one is showing up this moment and to have intimacy with that. And the reason why that is what matters is because, right now, that’s all one’s got. All the rest is a story.
This little model helps me explain people’s disillusionment with their spiritual teachers. In the same way we, as spiritual seekers, long to be White we want our teachers to be White, so that we have somebody in our life who we believe can show us the way. But n o b o d y is White.
‘White‘ is a story.
A spiritual master is somebody who is in touch with all her colors, AND who owns them when he or she shows up as that, and that equanimity with all colors is as White as it gets. When we don’t understand this and our teacher begins to show his or her blue and red and purple sides, we’re disillusioned. We attack them in our minds or write blog posts about them. We separate from them and I know that’s not wise because it all feels like pain. I know that because I’ve done it. It all stems from a basic confusion about what enlightenment is and is not, and about the deeper meaning of purity. The simple way to begin to clear up that confusion is to literally recognize that ‘Enlightenment is not what you think.’
This prompted me to write a little poem, which I dedicated to my friend Michelle Kassinger. We had a good time the other day talking about the matters that eventually became the ingredients for this post. Here it is.
I am aware of the colors I wear today
I am aware that those colors are not all that I am.
Allowing those insights to percolate right through my actions
So that I may live a life of balance
That’s the enlightenment that I know.
I get so close to my ego
to find out there is no ego