It was a Sunday and since the day was beautiful, my husband and I decided to go for a drive. We thought we’d visit a recently opened Book Fair at which different vendors were exhibiting paintings, assorted art objects, and of course, books. So we got into the car and drove up to Coconut Grove where the Fair was being held. After we parked, we strolled through streets that had been temporarily closed to automobile traffic. The vendors had decorated their stalls and kiosks in colorful pennants that sparkled in the sun as they trembled in the gentle January breezes.
Many people crowded the fairgrounds. We kept bumping into one another as we stopped to turn and get a closer look at the items for sale by a particular vendor. Something displayed in a little art gallery caught my eye. Among the paintings and sculpture sat a small canvas, about 12 by 18 inches in size. On an absolutely white background was painted an almost imperceptible gray silhouette of a person whose head was facing downwards. Nothing more. Its title, “The Bodhisattva.”
My husband said, “I don’t understand, what is a Bodhisattva?”
Although I’ve been married for forty-two years and for most of these years I’ve been a Buddhist, it doesn’t mean that my husband professes the same religion as I or that he sees things from my point of view. We’ve always respected each other’s ways of looking at life; and tolerance, on both parts, has always been present in our relationship. As far as Buddhism is concerned, I’ve never had the attitude that my opinion is absolute and his is relative. When Buddhism is truly comprehended, the absolute and the relative can be seen to exist in the same place and, even more, to be one and the same.
I told him that ‘Bodhisattva’ a Sanskrit word that technically translates as “enlightenment being” - is commonly used to indicate people who have an awakened conscience and possess “the Spirit of the Way.” The Spirit of the Way is realized when we behave respectfully, when we feel love and consideration for all beings, universally, and without disdain.
My husband wanted to know more about the Way. So as we stared into the strange painting, I explained that the “Way” or the “Ultimate Way” is an expedient a resource, a technique, a medium; and the participants who follow it accept the teachings and are sustained by them. The Buddha taught that this expedient originates in every person as the inspiration that leads to enlightenment. This is the motivation to realize the non-created truth and to achieve the unsurpassable enlightenment.
The Buddha, in The Diamond Sutra, says that numerous false thoughts are contained within the nature of all living beings. These false thoughts, I would say, arise from looking at things in the material world, including ourselves, from relative points of view. He continues to say that all living beings have their Buddha-nature obscured by the ceaseless appearance and disappearance of false thoughts, and until they can look beyond this, they cannot attain freedom. If anyone can truly and correctly practice the unfixated, formless practice of prajnaparamita as presented in The Diamond Sutra at each moment a thought arises - he or she will realize that the worldly tasks of false thoughts are non other than the pure nature of reality.
I concluded my explanation, “As I told you before, the relative and the absolute are the same and they are the unity. ‘When there are no worldly tasks in the mind, then this is buddha-universe; if there are worldly tasks in the mind, this is the universe of the ordinary beings.’”
He said, “Oh! This is too much for me. Explain it to someone else who can understand it better” and added, “let’s keep walking, I want to buy a book to read tonight.”
I kept silent for I didn’t want to insist on something that is, that it is always valid, and that doesn’t need to be seen from the outside: the pure nature of reality. What was there to explain? Nothing. The truth is, and nothing more. The pure nature of reality was the whole, the unity; and therefore, the tasks or mundane toils were not necessary to comprehend “The Truth.” When there are no worldly tasks in the mind, good or bad, that is to say when there is no duality and the correct and the incorrect don’t exist, then you can experience constant bliss. When the worldly tasks do exist, the consequences are the suffering and the happiness, the coming and going, the good and the evil. When you accept and sustain these teachings, the teachings of Prajnaparamita, the veil (of the mind) lifts up and you can see... Therefore everything is and everything is not. In simple common words, everything is absolute and relative at the same time. It’s only the mind activating itself in each mode. Only the mind.
Zen´s Master Hsuan Chuen of Yung Chia, stated in his “Song of Enlightenment”:
If people activate their mind living in the form, in the self, in the person, in the sound, in the smell, etc… they live in duality and therefore they allow sensations of rejection and attraction towards the objects by the six senses. The six senses are the five “sensory” ones and also the ‘sense’ of thought. Because of the weakness of activating the mind on such ‘forms’, these persons create innumerable attachments, habits that do not allow them to see their own Buddha nature. As a matter of fact, they often have no way of coming out of that duality, of freeing themselves. As the Buddha has said, “All of these [attachments] are due to the fixation of the mind on forms.”
We kept on walking, my husband looking for books to read, and I meditating inwardly on all that had been said.
“Form is emptiness, emptiness is not different from form,” Avalokitesvara said in The Heart Sutra of the Prajnaparamita. “Nothing appears and disappears, nor pure or impure, nor increases or decreases.” Since there is nothing to achieve or to obtain, we should strive to live according to the Great Wisdom, the Prajnaparamita.
I know, I had said to myself, thinking about the Prajnaparamita, that if I practice constantly, from moment to moment, following what The Diamond Sutra states, that is, by imagining and by really knowing that all things are empty (form is empty), without holding on to my attachments and being constantly alert and observant, without negligence or giving up, I will improve from moment to moment. That is living according to the Prajnaparamita. If you know the truth, you have to live according to it; if you don’t do it, it’s because you doubt it, or because you’ve taken it lightly, and if that’s the case, it’s because you don’t truly know it. I remembered what D.T. Suzuki once said, “Zen is not a pastime, but the most serious task in life”.
Suddenly I heard a voice calling, “What are you thinking about? Are you here on earth?” It was my husband. When I turned and looked at him, he added, “You’re walking around like a robot. Have you seen these books? Do you want to buy a few?”
“No”, I answered, “and if you are finished choosing your books, we can leave. I have an idea I want to write about.” We paid for my husband’s books, headed back to the car and drove directly home to write what I am now communicating to you all. Oh… Zen is wonderful!
Then it was five o’clock and time to cook dinner.