Sunday, November 30, 2014

Not Zen 138: Silence

The hiker spotted the old man he was looking for at the top of a hill to his west. The fellow's head leaned back to gaze up toward the sky. His shirt sleeves were rolled, hands resting on his knees, despite a steady wind.

The hiker turned west. In front of him, the slope rose sharply from the road. He trudged into the grass. Soon, the stalks grew above his knees. He cursed as he slogged upwards to his target but he smiled, too, because the inconvenience was a good sign. In other places, he'd questioned monks. He'd engaged abbots in debate. But some of those old fellows had been senile. This one ahead was only a village wise man but if he had the alertness to rise early in the morning and the stamina to tromp through the underbrush, at least he wasn't feeble.

"Hello!" he waved.

The weathered fellow above him let his gaze drift down. His eyes twinkled slightly with curiosity but otherwise he didn't seem surprised to receive a visitor.

"I heard that you perform your morning meditations in this area," he explained as he marched closer. "It's a big area. I was lucky to find you. I'd like to speak for a moment and get your opinion on a few things."

The wise man's eyes dimmed. He took a deep breath and waited.

He remained quiet while the hiker introduced himself. In a few minutes, the newcomer got the sense that he ought to get on with what he had to say. That was no problem. He had questions in mind similar to those he'd asked at the monastery.

"If nirvana is only attained through the destruction of desire," he said. "doesn't that mean we must destroy our personalities? Aren't our characters partly defined by what we desire? I think a lot of you teachers I've met have seemed the same. It's because you don't have many desires."

The old man sighed. He shook his head, apparently lost in thought. Then he resumed looking at the sky.

"Is something wrong with my question? Aren't our personalities determined mostly in our minds? Your philosophy, I hear, deals a lot with the nature of our minds."

The old man bowed his head. After a moment, he shrugged and resumed his meditations.

"Although, come to think of it," the visitor continued, "our personalities are also determined by our bodies. And by how people respond to us. Those responses give us our expectations and desires."

The old man didn't stop looking at the sky but he nodded.

"You don't feel my questions are good? You don't feel a need to respond with your words?"

That question got a smile.

"Is silence your response to everything?"

The old man glanced at his visitor. Then his head snapped back to his view of the landscape. He pointed.

"That cloud, right there, is beautiful," he said. "Did you notice?"

"No, I didn't." The visitor turned.

It was a large cloud, threaded throughout its bulk with shades of grey and white. The flattened base changed in texture from moment to moment as it swept toward the hill. The higher layers re-arranged even more dramatically. For a long moment, both men studied the cloud as it slowly changed shape in the sky.

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