First a few jokes:
Someone asked an astronomer, “Is there life in the universe?” They replied, “Where do you think you are?”
A young monk was walking along a riverbank, trying to find a way to go across the river. The current was too strong to swim in and there were numerous rocks jutting out that would make that very dangerous. He walked for quite some time but did not see a bridge, nor even a raft or boat that he could use to paddle across.
Then he saw an older monk on the other side, hobbling along the riverbank. The young monk waved to the older one and shouted, “Father, how do I get to the other side?”
The old monk looked at him for a moment, then shouted back, “My son, you are already on the other side.”
My teacher, Thay Kozen, speaks occasionally about seeing the infinite. He also speaks about seeing one’s true nature. I’ve thought these were two separate questions for quite some years now. Recently, my brain thought that perhaps these are one and the same question. That brought a smile to my face.
I was walking my dogs at the dog park today, and I was listening to Dogen’s Shobogenzo–the chapter called, “The Rippling of a Valley Stream, The Contour of a Mountain.” This chapter deals with preparation for experiencing kensho. Listening to this audiobook is like taking a nice, warm bath in Buddha Dharma. As is typical with me, I became distracted by thoughts. I began thinking about the sameness of the two aforementioned questions. And then something hit me like a ton of bricks. My thinking stopped and I heard the words, “I am the universe.” I have no idea where these words came from. It’s as if I felt the sameness of these two questions, seeing the infinite and seeing my true nature. I’ve had experiences before, and they’ve been powerful, but brief. This one stuck with me for quite some time. And it resurfaced as I was driving back home. When this feeling began, I found myself consciously realizing that I shouldn’t start thinking, just be with whatever’s happening. And so I did. I felt a strange sense of melancholy. I’m not sure where that fits in, but that’s what I felt. It wasn’t unpleasant at all. More magical.
As the feeling subsided, I found myself thinking. The two jokes above came to mind. It occurred to me, they are not funny, as I had thought before. They are addressing the same sameness of these two questions–our true nature and the infinite. Of course, the jokes’ point is not to look outside ourselves to see the true anything. Now I read these jokes and see the spirit behind something that Thay Kozen said to me once, “All koans have the same answer.” There is just one path. There are 84,000 paths. There is just one path. There is just one truth.
And in conclusion…. no big deal. And with great gratitude for Thay Kozen, who speaks to me in the “non-sentient” as Dogen would say. Not non-sentient as in the pebble always in my pocket to remind me I’m nothing special. But non-sentient as in beyond thinking. Wisdom beyond wisdom. Those had just been strange words to me. Thank you for making them real for me.