By Anshi Shenxing
I know I love—that’s all I’ve got.
No matter what, it seems like I’m naturally pushed into total agnosticism. All these views and methods, all these vows and intentions, and even my compassion all seem unstable. I’ve never practiced Zen in a vacuum, everything I learn to do has always involved, “Sure, this works for me, but what about you?” With that running criteria in mind, I haven’t been able to stumble on anything that truly “works.”
Someone wiser and more with it than me might say, “It’s all helpful means, each one crafted with a particular person in mind. Buddhism isn’t one-size fits all.” But how can I, in good conscience, recommend a view or method to someone that I don’t use or entertain as well? How can I talk about it with any kind of authenticity?
In Sartre’s terms, I’d be living in “bad faith,” I’d be pretending.
Is that the Bodhisattva way? Of course, a doctor doesn’t have to take all the meds they prescribe, and them not taking them doesn’t mean they’re placebos. See? That’s why I don’t have any views or methods; there’s always another side to everything that prevents me from donning a jersey and cheering for a specific team.
I can’t not see those other sides.
Yet they always leave me groundless, not knowing who I am, what to do, or what to believe. Only what I feel seems to be genuine. Everything else shifts and transforms on top of that.
Most of the time, I feel yearning. I know it isn’t good or bad, because it moves between them. I know it doesn’t have anything to do with others, because it’s still there even when my mind is free of notions like self and other. Something’s true if it remains as it is when everything else disappears. Something’s genuine if we can’t find its source, if it just seems to be.
Much of who we are is copied from others. Our words are copies, and then they’re used to forge thoughts, many of which are copies of views. The things we do are usually copies of the things we’ve seen others do. That means they’re not me or mine, they’re not genuine. Since they come and go based on our experiences, they’re not true.
Only my heart seems to be real to me—really real. These oceans of emotions that seem to wave even without wind.
This makes it almost impossible for me to do anything constructive with Zen, and it calls into question my ability to guide others and endure the arduous ceremonial training required of Zen priests. Thing is, none of it’s sacred to me, because none of it sticks around.
I can’t even meditate anymore, isn’t that interesting? All these methods seems like deadwood, good for nothing but a warm fire on a cool night. They don’t do anything, they don’t add anything to me or take anything away. As thriving trees, they provided baskets of fruits. But, now that they’re dead, it doesn’t make sense to keep showing up with a basket waiting for another apple to fall.
I can’t find any faith or trust in the teachings. There’s no authority in Buddhism, not even Siddhartha. Not even the Dalai Lama. Experience is the authority, the real teacher, and my experiences don’t ultimately point to anything in these old books besides, “Beyond words and letters.”
There’s no guidance, I just seem to wander aimlessly. Is this freedom? Is this my true nature?
I really hope not, because it’s kind of sad, even though I’ve intuited hundreds of times over the years that sadness is the most enduring thing about me. A kind of beautiful melancholy, like a black and white photo of a wild grove.
Once again, it isn’t sadness that’s about something else, not even me. It’s just there, even in the best of times, even when I’m on top of the world. It almost feels like it’s older than me, older than all the ideas I have about myself and the world. And it’s longing, loneliness. Yet it can also be a deep joy and love.
That means it isn’t really either of those things. So, what it is really, what is this ocean? Is it just me, or is it in you too? Beneath all thoughts, ambitions, preferences, and views, is it there? Can you feel it, pushing along everything we think and do? What is this?
Maybe this is my practice, getting in touch with this oceanic mind and seeing it as it is without joy and sorrow.
I don’t know of any methods to engage it or actualize it. Knowing it’s there, intending the mind toward it, and then focusing on it seems to be a gateway. Even sitting here typing, I can feel it gradually seem to encompass my body. It’s just a feeling, an attention-grabbing feeling that I can’t seem to find a word for.
Easing into it, it’s like I’m thousands of miles away from myself, from all the trivial thoughts I get wrapped up in. It’s like rain on a tin roof, a quiet melody hidden in the cacophony of day-to-day life. Listening to my heart, the noise seems to fade. Noise is just confusion, the mind struggling to find a pattern. Focus turned inward and flowing outward, confusion loses meaning, and what remains is the effortless force of the tides.
Only now that I’m lost can I find it, this one taste that can’t be given or taken. Seeing through my views, seeing through my judgments, there’s a bright open field motionless beneath the summer moon. Deeper than deep, in a valley that roads can’t reach. Is this Zen? Is it Huayan? Is it Buddhism at all? Those are just words. What I’m talking about it visceral, like a lover’s hand beneath the sheets, or cool water on parched lips.
Reflecting, maybe I’m already right where I need to be.
Anshi (安狮) is the pen name for a certain Chan Buddhist. He calls his introspective, autobiographical writing, “Dharma Noir.” All names are changed to protect the privacy of those involved. If you know who Anshi is, please refrain from telling anyone.
Editor: Dana Gornall