Prajna: Wisdom

July 17, 2016

Form is no other than emptiness; emptiness no other than form;
Form is exactly emptiness; emptiness exactly form;
Sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness are likewise like this.

All we perceive and experience is like this. As we practice zazen with regularity and  consistently yield to the reality of not knowing, we allow a deeper and deeper experience of these words that Avalokiteshvara spoke to Shariputra. But still this is beyond grasping, beyond our ability to articulate. We are both form and emptiness.

We are both form and emptiness and our dualistic brain does not grasp this essential state to its analytic satisfaction. Whenever we try to think it, our minds cloud and twist in confusion. However, our body and mind always embody it. In the midst of the confusion of thinking, the busyness of mind and body in daily life, we are always form and emptiness. How do we live it?

Many years ago I attended a year-end sesshin at a retreat center called Wisdom House. Aside from being a retreat center, it was the residence of an order of nuns called the Sister s of Wisdom. On one of the walls was a calligraphy of a verse from Proverbs chapter 9. I stopped often during the sesshin to read it. The words that stayed with me are these: “Wisdom has built herself a house…set a table…”

Now  I associate this house with zazen and Shitou’s Grass-Roof Hermitage,  a house  where there’s nothing of value, nothing fixed or permanent. It is a house that has been lived in, covered by weeds. We live there and do not cling tightly to definitions of inside, outside or in between. It is a form that embodies emptiness.

The mind of dichotomy, of picking and choosing may prefer either one or the other. Sometimes we think wisdom will help us bypass the messiness of the life of form.
Instead Master Keizan Jokin, the fourth generation after Master Dogen, offers this poem referring to the not-one-not-two nature of wisdom:

Though we find clear waters ranging to the vast blue sky in autumn,
how can it compare with the hazy moon on a spring night?
Most people want to have it pure white,
but sweep as you will, you cannot empty the mind.

This hazy moon has its own kind of clarity. It allows us to take the long and interwoven view of our up and down human life. The Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage by 8th century master,Shitou Xiquian offers these words:

Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely.
Open your hands and walk, innocent.