Notes on a Buddhist path

Nothing, thank you

October 28, 2012 By | Leave a Comment

“…nothing is as eloquent as nothing.” ~ Sonmi~451 from the novel, Cloud Atlas

A crush of garnet, orange and yellow leaves now cover the sidewalks and streets of the city I call home. Fall has returned with her wet skies and brilliant tapestries both underfoot and floating down from the heavens of satellite trees. This morning as I walked towards the ocean under those grand, wind-kissed branches, my mind drifted to what I had to do today, what I would have for lunch, what to write in this blog post.

In the midst of all the thoughts I stopped the petitions to the future and reminded myself of the delicious presence surrounding me. For the briefest of milliseconds I was in the arms of nothing.

I’ve nearly finished reading Cloud Atlas, the stunning and powerful novel by David Mitchell. Besides being a creative tour de force, he manages to weave themes of reincarnation, cravings, the illusion of self, suffering and end of suffering into a tapestry of six interlocking stories. There’s a scene in one of the tales in which Sonmi~451, a futuristic being cloned for servitude, learns for the first time of Siddhartha, the Buddha. She sees a cross-legged carving of him in a mountainside and is told he was a man “that offered salvation from a meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth…[he] taught about overcoming pain, and influencing one’s future reincarnations.”

Sonmi~451’s journey is marked by pain and shattered illusions, and what she learns near the end of her life is indeed the crux of Buddhism: nothing is as eloquent as nothing. Nothing is total presence, mindfulness, the end of suffering, enlightenment, Nibbana. Holding at bay our monkey mind and emotions, our hopes and schemes, our regrets and longings, and staying in the complete and utter mercy of no thought, no past, no future, that state of no thing is true liberation. Living in the cradle of emptiness we can see ever more clearly the impermanence of not just the autumn leaves, but everything in this life. Seeing nothing as the means and the end cuts the cycle of suffering for there’s no need for cravings, no need to hold onto the illusion of a self that wants another pair of shoes or a better life or to write one more word.

Heading home under those same gilded trees, two women approached me and pointed to an owl sitting in a tree up ahead. There he was, not more than 10 feet off the ground in the late morning light of a busying day. His eyes clear and bright, he surveyed the ground and the tree, swiveling his regal head with graceful ease. He wasn’t thinking about how he looked or remembering the meal he had yesterday. His world existed only in the empty vessel of now, the nothing bowl of each present moment, and watching for what might cross his path and become his meal for today.

I watched him for awhile and held the presence we shared with gratitude and wonder. Eloquence had its moment with us. Now it was time to fly.

Buddha in Glory

By Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead

Buddha in Glory by Rainer Maria Rilke, Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell, Modern Library, copyright 1995.

Image credit: Korea south silla stone Buddha via Wikimedia Commons

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