nameless zen master


Some teachers you meet only once.  Some teachers you never even learn their name.  I never knew the name of my Zen master.  He didn’t wear traditional robes.  He haunted the Buddhist section of the Bodhi Tree Bookstore.   He could be found only by serendipity.  I overhead him speaking to another of his students.  At the time I was deeply absorbed with technical aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, specifically drops and the other structures of the subtle bodies.  I had not yet made the connection between the yogic bindu and drops.  When his student left I decided to approach him.  I asked him if he could help me understand these Tibetan mysteries.  He said: if there is no mind there are no drops.  I met him several times.  I tried to make appointments to see him but he refused.  He would be there if I needed him.  Our meetings always consisted of me posing detailed questions and he deflecting them with koans and non sequiturs.  He became short tempered with me, irritation crept into his voice when he asked me why I was so fascinated with the finger I never looked at the moon.  But he could also be gentle and witty in a way that would ring in my consciousness for weeks.

Wrestling his point of view became a constant practice for me. Then it happened. That is, nothing happened.  There it all was, shining now, made up of everything and nothing.  Instead of facing the world through the blinders of all my training I was simple and everything around me beamed with the same simple consciousness and I felt a great tragic yet blissful love for all my fellow travelers in this particular moment of time.  I went to see him for a last visit on a beautiful spring day.  He was there in a dark corner bent over staring at a book’s full page reproduction of a painting of Daruma by Shunso.  Two masters dubiously eyeing each other, one in brush strokes the other in a plaid shirt.  He hadn’t seen me in awhile. Had probably given up on me. I thanked him for helping me realize a spring day.  The serenity and warmth the words conveyed made him smile.  We were no longer teacher and student.  We were more like two children not too awestruck to giggle at the miracle and mystery that is being.  A distraught looking young woman appeared to demand his attention and I left smiling knowing she was in good hands. 

Words are dangerous, slippery, magnetic, filled with prejudices.  A word can be a violent tool in the wrong hands, like a gun or a knife.  Words tell only a fraction of the miracle and mystery.  Words more often confuse and cause conflict.  The emotional charges of words can differ so greatly between cultures and individuals that even when the same definition is held, the real meaning can be quite opposite.  I have a friend who is an African American martial arts master.  He tells me African Americans find it almost impossible to use the word master even when it is a term of respect and honor.  They would not address him as master.

What my zen teacher taught me was to trust a deeper awareness of being.   Away from words we listen more deeply.  Words are the past and the future intruding on the present. The present offers these depths only to those and who can look upon it with the primal awareness of innermost self.  People have struggled to name and describe it.  Bucke called it cosmic consciousness.  Generations of metaphysicians talked about the Higher Self, over-self, or used the sanskrit word atman. Suchness.  Tathata.  Thusness.  All emphasize that the mystery is far greater than a brain encased consciousness can conceive, at least as currently under utilized by inhabitants of human bodies.  But what is brain when there is no mind?