Talking Zen

Behind attachment, there is freedom.

Behind fear, there is love.

Behind craving, there is the quiet joy of being.

If you’ve read anything about zazen (sitting meditation), here or elsewhere, you’ve probably seen it characterized as being completely silent. Well, that’s not entirely true—which seems fitting, that Zen would have nothing to do with fixed or categorical statements of truth.

I’m not referring to ambient noise—the creaks of an old building, the rumbling of stomachs, the sounds of bodies shifting on cushions or noises from the street—but rather something that happens in this zendo (and, I assume, others) from time to time. A few moments into a period of zazen, occasionally the head priest will utter a simple statement such as the one I quoted above (or paraphrased; it was two hours ago, after all).

In an atmosphere so intensely quiet and focused, these brief sayings cut through boldly. In fact, the first couple times, I recall my mind being startled into alert. In the instant before recognition took hold, I heard a mental alarm go off: Talking? Talking in the zendo…during meditation? What’s wrong? Now that I’ve become more accustomed to this practice—to the unexpected, quiet burst of spoken words—the shock of broken silence is lessened, and the words reach my mind as a welcome, if somewhat unexpected, guest that soon goes on its way.

This morning, it seems that guest made more of an impression than usual. With my recent move and general life-rearranging, I’ve been experiencing attachment, fear, and clinging more keenly and chronically than usual. So a couple hours ago when I heard the above with all around me quiet, only having been awake half an hour, the words lingered. Even though they’re nothing I haven’t read numerous times in various books, in this context they felt more like a friend than a guest, comforting, renewing my resolve to sit mindfully.

Gassho, everyone.

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