Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Escape

January 27, 2021

..we all seem to yearn for something indescribably precious which has been lost to our experience.”


Zen is also about closing off our escape routes, so that in the end there is nowhere to go. We have no choice but to be right here, where we are.

We seem to long for transcendence, to escape ourselves and our lives, and find a promised land where all is well, which somehow we intuit must exist. Whether the metaphor is the pining for a vanished Eden which we messed up and lost (the Abrahamic view), or the desire to clear away “impurities” and so reveal the true self (the eastern view), we all seem to yearn for something indescribably precious which has been lost to our experience.

We’re right to, it seems. There surely is a radical clarification that can befall us. We can discover a reality beyond space and time, which holds all space and time – in other words, all our experience – and which in fact all space and time is an expression of. Yet it is beyond thought or knowing.

But when we have a taste of it, it tends to leave an impression. Then we tend to cling to that impression as if it were it itself. We may think we’ve got it, and that we now know what it is.

Yet this reality is not a thing. It cannot be known in that way. “It belongs neither to knowing or not-knowing,” as Nansen said. It is in fact before-knowing, or pra-jna (that which exists before knowing). Therefore, our attempts to go to it, or to be in it, or to find it, are doomed from the start. We already are it. It is every moment, just as it is.

In other words, our yearning to escape to another realm is thwarted from the start.

If we are lucky enough to experience this other dimension, it has in the end no choice but to drive us back to just this – this very moment, here, now, as we sit reading these words with the sun falling on the desk through the window, or the rain softly hissing outside, or the teacup steaming at the elbow, or the telephone ringing, or the traffic grumbling by outside, or the thought about something we need to do – whatever is now, this is it.

So, all roads lead back to here and now. All our practice is just to take us here, no matter what existential revelations we may or may not be blessed with along the way.

Therefore, the escape routes we longed for were in a sense the problem all along. They encouraged the notion that we were looking for something else. Whereas really what we were seeking all along was precisely this – just what is here and now. And to encounter this is our greatest possible blessing.

When Nansen was asked if there is a teaching that has never been preached to the people, he answered yes. What is it? the monk asked. Nansen said: “This is not mind, this is not Buddha, this is not a thing.”

What is this? What is he speaking of? Where can we meet him, find him, join him? Where else is there?

By Henry Shukman, most recently from our January 25, 2021 newsletter.
Image: Childhood-Curisoity by Hartwig HKD, CC BY-ND 2.0, from
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