Message from Henry: Down the Drain

…ordinary beings have no illumination in their consciousness, but Buddhas have no consciousness in their illumination. ~ Dogen

Zen training is like a bathtub where the plug has been pulled. At first nothing seems to be happening, but the water is surely going down.

We’re a plastic boat floating round, bobbing along, past the rubber duck, along the side of the tub That’s interesting but no big deal. The water is going down, but too slowly to see. Then a moment comes when it’s clear the sides of the tub have grown taller. How did this happen? The perspective is changing.

Then the water is noticeably shallower… The movement of boat and duck around the perimeter speeds up. They cycle around the edge happens just a bit quicker.

Then we glimpse a sudden vortex down at the plug hole. It’s a shock. Where did that twisted rope of energy spring from? We might be tempted to stop: now we’ve seen it for ourselves and know it’s real. Is that enough?

We’re in Zen training. It’s by no means enough.

The tub continues to empty. The journey, the process, is far from complete.

Suddenly there the vortex is again, a silver braid spiraling into darkness. This time we’re tugged right into it, with an alarming, heart stopping jolt. An intense energy strikes us to the core. And we bob out again.

But the boat has been broken by the jolt. We’re flotsam on the surface now, and the water continues to drain. Then, with a gulp of the drainage system, we get caught once again in the eddy. We don’t realize it’s happening, then before we know it, we’re sucked right down into the whirlpool, through the mouth of the drain, down and down.

Total darkness. Life as we knew it gone, devoured by the plumbing, sucked away into the core of the pipes. Somehow, through that impossible keyhole, that eye of the needle, we pass into… beyond …

That’s what Zen training is for: to suck us out of life as we know it, and out of ourself as we know it. All along we thought it was something in the bath we were waiting to have sucked away, but it wasn’t: it was the water itself. And, it turns out we ourselves were the water all along.

Dogen said that ordinary beings have no illumination in their consciousness, but Buddhas have no consciousness in their illumination. Awareness has to be extinguished, all traces of a witness gone, for the path of Zen to flourish.

From Henry Shukman’s memoir, One Blade of Grass

Image: Washbasin by Peter Novotny, Pixabay License

 

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