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Lions Roar : September 2006
too, trying to figure out exactly what he meant. No-sound? What is the sound of no-sound? Did he mean the absence of the gong’s sound, or the memory of it, or was there some experience he wanted me to have? Gonnnngggg...God knows, I tried to hear it, the no-sound. The gong would fade and fade and fade until it was just a faintly crackling vibration. Some- times my attention would be right there when the last note dropped out, but...so what? The sound was there; then it wasn’t. I just didn’t get it. That was seventeen years ago. The room where we meditated—to me it was a beloved and sacred room—was the office where Ed conducted his psychotherapy practice in Pasadena, California. To get to his office from the sidewalk, you’d push through a vine-covered gate that creaked, then walk past a small patch of roses and a cool, moss-covered wall until you reached the side door. It got so that just going through that creaking gate signaled a change in consciousness. It signaled the opportunity to spend an hour or two in the company of a remarkable man. Funny, he might have appeared to all the world as just another sixty-year-old white male, but if you paid attention you would have seen that his countenance shone with wisdom and compassion. His features seemed de- signed for that very purpose. “Sounds come into existence, stay vary- ing lengths of time, and then vanish...as does all experience.” I heard Ed say this countless times. Gradually, as I became a Buddhist, I realized that he was giving us a gentle lesson in impermanence: every- thing has its life in time, then vanishes. The room vanished first. Ed’s wife, Melinda, developed Alzheimer’s at the GONNGGGG...My late Zen teacher, Dr. Edward Wortz, had a wonderful iron bowl. Of all the meditation bowls I’ve ever heard, it made the sweetest, purest sound as Ed struck it to begin and end our medi- tation periods. That sound, accompanied by the fragrance of incense settling in the room, took the hard edges off the day, in- viting you to be present. After striking it, Ed might offer a few words of guidance to start off the period, his voice, like the bell, warm and calm. It reassured you that there really was a way out of suffering, a path of wisdom and compassion. And then, as day gradually turned to night, the birds still singing, children playing under the trees, the cool evening air coming in through the open windows, we began our listening meditation. The initial instructions for the listening meditation were simple: sit still, relaxed and alert, and listen to whatever sounds appear in your environment. Listen with “bare attention”; that is, without adding any thoughts, labels, or judgments to the sounds. Listen, in Ed’s words, as “sounds come into existence, stay for varying lengths of time, and then vanish...as does all experience.” Sometimes Ed used the bowl to illus- trate later stages of the practice. As we sat there with our eyes closed, he would strike the bell and say, “Listen to this sound [the bowl went GONNGGGG] exactly here. Now listen as it decays [gonngggg].” After several moments the gonngggg would finally dis- appear, replaced by the birds, or crickets, or a car passing by. Ed would say, “Now, listen! Exactly where the sound was—listen to the no-sound.” My ears would strain, reaching for the no-sound. My brain would strain, Bell South With a strike of the gong, sound is born, sustains, and passes away. All things are like this, notes ERIK HANSEN, but where is the no-sound his Zen teacher talked about? Is it the sound of one hand clapping? Is it the jackhammer in the street? ILLUSTRATIONSBYTONYMATTHEWS SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 35