Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wheeling after life in the Zen monastery


Hui Neng, the Sixth Zen patriarch, achieved his recognition by responding to a poem that suggested the mind was a clear mirror on which no dust collected. Hui Neng proposed that the mirror had no existence on which the dust could collect; thus, demonstrating his state of illumination.

John Blofeld, in his continuing autobiography, 'The Wheel of Life', has decided to visit the monastery where Hui Neng's body was kept, miraculously as befits a saint, in complete preservation (though you might imagine that a Zen saint might delight in stinking to confound such stereotypical thinking as did Dostoevsky's Father Zossima)!

Here he encounters a centenarian abbot with whom he carries out a wonderful conversation, with the impulsiveness of youth, on the relationship between 'self-power' and 'other-power'. How is it possible maintains Blofeld to believe in both and, with simplicity, the abbot answers that it is. The adept who meditates from within until within and without collapse in one world is the same as the farmer who repeating the name of Amida, calling for birth in the Pure Land, becomes so focused that the 'without' of Amida's grace collapses any sense of 'within' or 'without': all is the same dynamic graced being with and in the world. It is a beautiful exposition - and an account of how different approaches (truths) are necessary to ensure that everyone has access to the truth.

It is classic Blofeld description - suffused with a genuine humility allowing you to see his stumbling after a genuine encounter and a beautiful account of a realized sage.

I am fully in love with this book - and its author. I am so happy to be engaged with three authors whose work you simply want to work your way through.

A common strand is the humility of enterprising after truth, not imagining that you capture it, but that you evoke it - and a respect for the wisdom of mystery (for John Blofeld and Neil Gunn this is explicitly 'zen' and its commonality with the contours of their experience, for Rumer Godden, it is a subtler sense of an experienced wisdom, often rooting in India). Three different authors (though all contemporaries and all from the United Kingdom) cannot be imagined - from political engagement to sense of place, from explicit religious commitment to free flowing connections; and, possibly equally true 'marginal' figures - recognized as important but treated as 'minor' - two novelists who are admired but not feted, a religious scholar and translator who does not come equipped with the precise qualifications.

They make me feel at home.

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