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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2009 74 teacher is storming us? We run for our lives. In no other case that I had studied so far was there such an abrupt stop. No action, nothing. The attendant had already given his all when he said the fan was broken, when he revealed he was not whole. It’s a naked thing to show we are fractured, that we do not have it all together. Broken all the way through to the bottom. What freedom that is, to be what we are in the moment, even if it’s unacceptable. Then we are already the rhinoceros. Think about it: We are always doing a dance—I’m good, I’m bad, I’m this, I’m that. Rather than the truth: I don’t know who I am. Instead, we scurry to figure it out. We write another book, buy an- other blouse, exhaust ourselves. Imagine the freedom to let it be, this not knowing. How vulnerable. This is why I love the attendant. He said who he was—a broken man, a shattered fan derived from the concentrated point of a fierce beast. When his teacher asked for more, the monk didn’t do a jig to win him over. There was no more. Usually we will do anything to cover up a reality so naked. I know the relief, and ensuing shame or terror, of making that kind of simple statement. When I was in the middle of a divorce, I visited my parents in Florida. My father was on the first day of a new diet. He was looking forward to dinner. We were going out to a steakhouse for the early bird special. My father made fun of my huarache sandals when I stepped out of the bedroom, ready to go. “What are those, horse hooves?” I was touchy and tired of his putdowns. I twirled around and marched back into the bedroom. “I’m leaving,” I screamed. I threw clothes into a suitcase and charged out the front door and onto the nearby turnpike. I was walking on the divider line, headed for the airport fifteen miles away. A car pulled up beside me and drove the speed of my walking pace. I looked straight ahead. “Nat,” my father pulled down his window. I burst out crying. “Wait, stay here. I’ll go get your mother. do you promise not to move?” I nodded, leaning against the rail guard. Moments later my parents pulled up together. My mother ran out of the car. “Natli, what’s the matter?” I uttered three words: “I am lost.” I had no energy for a cover- up. Those words came from my core. everything halted. My mother stood with her hands at her sides. My father looked straight ahead, his face frozen, his arm hanging over the door of the car. Nothing was to be done. It was a huge, unbearable opening between us. My parents became embarrassed. So did I. We’d never been so naked with each other. After a long, excruciating time, my father’s head turned. “Now can we go eat? I’m starving.” THe MONK dId NOT have this distraction. No restaurant for him. My experience was that the monk stood his ground for all time. He did not reply after he showed his naked face. But like the rabbis making commentary on the Torah, later zen teachers re- sponded to koans, and in this case disagreed over the monk’s state of mind. Maybe the attendant in his silence had emptied his depths, so that the rhinoceros, the source, stood there radiantly, painfully alive in his no reply. Or maybe he was just dumbfounded and petrified, thinking, what should I do now in front of my teacher? In the next sentence, in steps zifu. He draws a circle and writes the word “rhino” inside it. I imagine that he picked up a nearby stick and drew the circle in the dirt or in the air and then wrote the Chinese character boldly in the center. I found out that zifu was a zen master who lived at least a hun- dred years after the interchange between Yanguan and the monk. These stories, passed on generation to generation, were kept splen- didly alive. Sitting in his monastery, zifu hears the situation and plunges in. zifu’s dust circle is a stamp of approval. His response radiates back through a century and screams forward to us now. Attendant I see you, zifu calls out. Yes, zifu is saying, this exchange between student and teacher is complete. Nothing is left out. even if the attendant was immo- bilized rather than inexpressively present, zifu catches the whole thing and brings it to completion, enlightening the attendant, the rhino, the teacher, folding us all into the great circle. — SePTeMBeR, 2007 Thoughts from a Catholic Hermitage by Pico Iyer THIS IS THe PLACe where plans and words burn up, I say defi- antly, triumphantly. Names fall away, and with them all the divi- sions that names enforce. I look out on an ocean that’s become a blue plate extending below me, the sky a great bowl of blue above, birds calling from the trees, rabbits in the undergrowth— and realize that it doesn’t matter who or where you are: this is who you are when the who (and the are) falls away. So much of our time—my time, at least—is spent in drawing fine analytical distinctions: this and that, east and West, male and female, head and heart. Sometimes I can even convince myself they have something to do with spirit: breathing in and breath- ing out, taking in and giving back. I lull myself with the ebb and flow of the motion, and hear in it systole and diastole. But from where I sit today, in a patch of light, the ocean 1,300 feet below, spread out like a mat that reaches all the way to Asia, it isn’t the movement that impresses me: it’s the stillness that lies behind it. No terms in this place, and no sign of anything man-made. Re- ceding hills to the south, mist wreathing in and out of them. The ocean below. Brush that has been cleared to protect the place from fire. Up above, if I look towards the blue, blue sky, cloudless in early spring, a cross, as it happens, though it could be something else.