Tenryu-ji

Interlude: Song Without Words, performed by Rachel Currea, on the Walking to You album

On Saturdays here at Resurrection, we practice Christian meditation, centering into the moment within the tradition of God the Trinity — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In other places on the planet,  meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition.  Very different religions, yes.  Different meditation techniques, too.  In as much as meditation has a goal, the Christian seeks to get closer to God, and the Buddhist seeks Enlightenment, the end of suffering — again, quite different.   And yet, my experience when talking to, or reading about, Buddhists who practice meditation, I feel a sense of fellowship.

IMG_20180121_171628255I’d like to share with you an excerpt from the book Tenryu-ji, Life and Spirit of a Kyoto Garden¹.  At this point in the book, the author is talking about the life of the Buddhist monk Muso, who would later influence the design of the Tenryu-ji garden.

“For more than twenty years, Muso lived mostly amid forests and mountains.  During this time, he wrote of several initial experiences of Buddha-Nature.  It was said that “once a person awakens to the field of Original Nature, he sees that Buddha-Nature, mind, ‘thusness’ [shinnyo] … as well as … the great earth, mountains, rivers, grass, tiles, or stones, are all the field of Original Nature.”  During this phase of his life, Muso’s teachers, his examples of enlightenment, were trees and water and mountains.

“He became aware of the subtle manner in which sunlight and shadow flowed as the surface of bamboo, ebbing to and fro with the wind.  One evening, sitting at the fireside near the Okita River, Muso contemplated flames flickering in the darkness.  At moments, it would appear as if there was no distinction between wood and flame.   Between light and dark.

“Muso began to experience everyday existence as Buddha-Nature in that “living in this way…everything right and left, everywhere, was full of existence.  And he heard the voice of existence itself.”  Muso, though, felt that he had not yet experienced the awareness experienced by [Buddha] … under the Bodhi tree.  Muso wrote of one experience where he fell asleep during a long session of zazen and, upon waking, became ashamed of having fallen asleep.  Yet at that moment also, he began to question distinctions such as sleeping and waking, remembering and forgetting.  He felt that if he had truly not made a distinction between wakefulness and sleeping, he would not have experienced the suffering of shame at having fallen asleep.

“Muso began to watch the ebb and flow of his thoughts.  He felt that he still was making distinctions that did not exist, except within his clouded mind.  Distraught, he thought of returning to [his teacher] … to announce his defeat when, unexpectedly, he experienced a signal Zen Buddhist state of awareness.

“The year was 1305.  One night, while staying with friends, he rose from a long session of zazen [meditation] “and stepped out into the garden of the house in which he was staying.” He sat for some time under a tree in the garden (again, reminiscent of [Buddha] … sitting under the Bodhi tree).  Rising from his meditation, Muso moved to retire to the house.  Darkness obscured his way, and he tripped over a piece of the roof that had fallen to the ground and … he fell to the ground.

“A simple, ordinary act.  Yet, Muso’s response was to … laugh, in surprise.  In this sudden, spontaneous laughter Muso perhaps felt he had experienced the state of awareness Zen Buddhists term satori.  Importantly for us, if so, he had experienced satori within a garden.

“Satori is held to be awareness of “pure existence,’ existence experienced directly and not filtered through ego-consciousness. “Original Nature [Buddha-Nature] is pure existence,” and experience of pure existence often is associated with overwhelming calmness, joy, and peace of heart and mind.

“And laughter.  Buddhists often say, “laughter is the cancellation of ego.”  In Zen Buddhism, “a smile or laugh … cancels the world of opposition … laughter rescues the mind.”  Muso “fell through” his walls of expectation and illusion, and awoke to existence-as-it-is (shinnyo).  He experienced existence-as-it-is without texts or ritual.  He experienced existence-as-it-is … within nature.

“It was the custom at the time to compose a poem upon the initial experience of what was believed to be satori, and Muso wrote:

Year after year
I dug in the earth
looking for the blue of heaven

only to feel
the pile of dirt
choking me

until once in the dead of night
I tripped on a broken brick
and kicked it into the air

and saw that without a thought
I had smashed the bones
of the empty sky.”

 

End quote.

Here at Resurrection, we meditate together.  We let go of our thoughts, and settle into existence-as-it-is.  It is a comfort to me, and hopefully to you as well, to know that we are not alone on our meditation journey.  We have companions, not just in this time, not just in this space, and not just in our tradition.


¹Johnson, Norris Brock.  Tenryu-ji, Life and Spirit of a Kyoto Garden. Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, California, 2012. Pages 69-71.


Delivered at Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos, California, on February 3, 2018.