They say Buddha practiced every form of asceticism known to the India of his times, in an effort to attain enlightenment. All in vain. One day he sat under a bodhi tree and enlightenment occurred. He passed on the secret of enlightenment to his disciples in words that must seem strange to the uninitiated: “When you draw in a deep breath, oh monks, be aware that you are drawing in a deep breath. And when you draw in a shallow breath, oh monks, be aware that you are drawing in a shallow breath. And when you draw in a medium-sized breath, oh monks, be aware that you are drawing in a medium-sized breath.” Awareness. Attention. Absorption. This kind of absorption one observes in little children. They are close to the Kingdom. — Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird
On my very last day in Paris, I was wandering dizzily through an English bookstore, strung out on insomnia and confusion, waiting for my train out of town that night. I’d been there for 12 weeks and had led a pretty lonely, isolated existence– drinking wine and stumbling into art galleries by myself, mostly. Even on that last day, I hadn’t really figured out “why” I’d gone. I’d been dogging myself the whole trip because of this and my reaction to it– smoking, writing (endlessly, uselessly), stringing myself out however I knew how (as usual). Truth is, I find myself in such situations often: lack of a “why,” oblivious as to “how.” And yet, if there is one thing true about me, it’s that I always have my eyes open for a solution to this lack and my own oblivion– or rather, if not a solution, at least some healthier course, some passage in a book, something to think or write about, some wilderness to appreciate. A distraction even, something to “validate” my life, time, existence. I admit, I’m not always the best at sticking to a healthier course, even when I find one, although I’d never deprive myself the chance of finding new paths out. Anyway, that’s where I was that morning, strung out in Paris spring, when I spotted an unshelved book, resting on top of a row of Philosophy lit, dislocated from its home section in Eastern Religion. It was called “Living Dhamma, by Ajahn Chah. Somewhere in it, he cites the Buddha’s words. I read them, again. Trust me, nothing miraculous happened. I took a breath, and knew that I did it. That was that– and enough.
Truth is, we’re always lacking “why” and “how.” But regarding these considerations, the Buddha seems to say: forgetaboutit! Take a look at WHAT is there. And don’t just take a look at “what is there” now, and then go on worrying about whys and hows and wheres and whens later. Don’t “postpone” conventional concerns for later. Commit simply to this: see what is there, in every moment, and do not waver from this simple act. Hold to THIS, which I would call the “unprecedentedness of every moment.” If you think about it, there couldn’t be a more impossible faith, or a greater test of faith, precisely because, in doing so, you’re trusting that the “solution” is RIGHT THERE in front of you. You’re trusting that there’s no “problem,” and that the moment you shut off that “thinking brain” that’s so confined to the past, that right then you WAKE UP. It’s not a “solution,” in the sense that we understand it. It’s what is: unprecedented. Simply. There’s nothing more to it than this. Take a look at your breath, and everything else. And keep on doing that. Death will eventually come. And even death you won’t judge or fear. Because after all… what’s one more expiration?
It’s funny… in this comment I wanted to express how damn revolutionary this brief comment by the Buddha is. But in the end… I can only remind myself to listen to it, or to remember it, every step. I write all this, and I will keep writing… and it is funny to realize that “I” will never get much further than this. And if the words don’t pull you into the value of THIS unprecedented moment, then the words might as well be stones. And in any case, nothing’s in them.
Consider me likewise: a word / life of breath. Nothing, moving on to the next city..