A story is told of a fish swimming toward two younger fish. As it swims by, the older fish says to the younger ones, “How’s the water, boys?” Swimming on for awhile, one young fish turns to the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”
The point of the story is that the most important things are often the hardest to see, the most difficult to talk about or explain. Spiritual awakening – enlightenment… what do these terms really mean? Short of years spent in monastic retreat, can anyone know? Are we like these fish, and enlightenment, an ocean of water so close that we can’t see it? These are two more questions no one can answer to the satisfaction of everyone.
What we do, or can have is an experience. It is accessible to all, and all who share the experience arrive at an understanding that answers some – at least these last two questions.
I am seated on the floor, supported by a cushion. No more than an arms length in front of me, seated on a similar cushion, a bronze bowl at his side – a priestly looking gentleman waits in meditative silence. Minutes pass, after which the man pulls a wooden mallet from the folds of the robe he wears. The mallet strikes the bowl. The sound is captivating – a single warbling tone indicates the quality of it’s craftsmanship. A single note, it’s purity, intoxicating. Slowly the sound fades. As it does, I listen intently – listening to hear all and a little more.
The sound is gone and I focus again on his face. He leans toward me and I feel the seriousness of words he is about to speak.
“Is it possible to just listen?” He asks. “Can you listen without an opinion?”
The mallet strikes the bowl and again I am drawn to the sound, but no longer, just listening. Feeling the pressure of the question my mind races, searching for an answer. The sound is still beautiful. Is this just an opinion? What to answer?
“Yes!” I say.
Instead of acknowledging my response, he says nothing. I know that he has studied my face – seen the tightness around my eyes as I waited. Intent on getting the answer right, I’ve answered from “my head.” My expression is all the answer he needs.
“Is pure listening possible?” he asks. With this subtle rephrase of the original question, he strikes the bowl again.
Without explanation, I know what is required. This time there is no bowl, no question, just pure sound. I feel it. If the bowl had been cheap and it’s overtones discordant, the experience may have been different. But I’ve forgotten about him and myself. The purity of this tone carries me beyond opinion. Again, the sound fades and my focus returns to the two of us. A delicious feeling lingers.
“Yes,” I say – my answer the same as before. This time a smile plays at the edges of my mouth. Without explanation laughter comes as I repeat the word. “Yes,” I say again.
The man seated in front of me is a friend and teacher. The question he has asked is the first of thirteen designed to deliver the experience of enlightened mind to uncertain students. I’ve just experienced pure listening, unconditioned by my mind. This, simply this… is Awakened Mind. However – there is more to it than brass bowls and odd questions. A world awaits. One un-moderated by opinions, judgments and habitual reactivity. It is pure and fierce in it’s purity. This purity does not inform me – I Am this. And so it is, always, already.
For two thousand years people have wondered what Paul, the Apostle meant when he instructed followers to, “Put on this mind which was in Christ Jesus.” In the same way, students of The Awakened One have labored lifetimes to experience what Buddhism’s founder referred to as Awakened Mind.
Sitting with my friend, Awakening happened. Though my experience was brief, I experienced Christ Mind. The habits of a lifetime quickly swept the experience away but not the memory. Such that now, as I engage in trans-formative practice, I know where it is leading – I have experienced the goal. Remembering this experience I have no doubt that I can, as occasionally, I do – experience it again. What is startling about this experience was the realization that Awakened Mind is here, right now! Like water and fish. Like Life?
The fish asked, “What is water?” We ask, what is life, or Awakened Mind? Whatever you might have been told… you should question. Better still, I invite you to share the experience. Does this experience really answer questions like these? You will only know if you have the experience.
For more information about JunPo Roshi and the Mondo Zen, Koan Dialogue Process, Contact: http://www.mondozen.org/