In the dead of night recently, I sought the company of my late teacher, Robert Aitken, Roshi, and read through his essay, “The Experience of Emptiness” from his book Original Dwelling Place: Zen Buddhist Essays. On page 155, halfway through, we were suddenly rubbing eyebrows and I was weeping over this paragraph:
“Compare Dr. Suzuki’s words with those of the Dalai Lama, who understands very well how all forms are empty of substance and how at the same time they come forth, precious in themselves. In his public talks he declares again and again, like Torei Zenji, that even our so-called enemies can be our teachers.”
Here was the old man calling attention to the “intimate particular,” Emptiness is Form, in an essay in which he is using this perspective to draw attention to the importance of social responsibility, ethics, and social justice. He was a conscientious objector during World War II and sent to Guam to work as an alternative to jail. Here he was captured by the Japanese and survived terrible conditions as a prisoner of war in Japan. In his 90s, struck down by a stroke, Aitken Roshi still asked students to transport him in his wheelchair to participate in various protests.
I was deeply reminded how much effort he put into trying to point me away from an imagined spirituality apart from daily life and the world. It took me many more years to learn and accept this teaching, which is perhaps why I am such an evangelist for this perspective of “reclaiming the world,” the precious particular.
This is not a transfigured particular. We must be transfigured to experience the particular as it is, one we experience as co-created, having no independent self, ever changing; and it is our child, our lover, the sun, moon and earth, the undulating drop of dew like the fun house mirrors reflecting expansions and contractions of the universe. As Donovan sang, “First there is a mountain, then no mountain, then there is.” Or as the Diamond Sutra proclaims for us still, “Because the world is not a world, it is the world.”
Now perhaps “precious particular” is not the most felicitous nomenclature for this perspective. The adjective may evoke the Golem from Lord of the Rings, “My precious,” or be too precious or gaudy a qualifier. I am not so satisfied with the 5 Perspectives I have been using to help us see deeper into each moment of experience: Totality, Unity, Mutuality, No-thing-at-all, and the Precious Particular. These expressions are not capturing the dynamic processes of life and consciousness. Perhaps they just need to be fleshed out with description.
Here is a fabulous metaphor expressing the dynamic processes of the world as it is from Tu Shun’s “On the Meditation of the Dharmadatu (Yes, the essay I asked you not to read, and will be recording my explication of which to send you.):
“The entire ocean is embodied in one wave, yet the ocean does not shrink. A small wave includes the great ocean, and yet that wave does not expand. Though the ocean simultaneously extends itself to all waves, it does not by this fact diversify itself; and though all waves simultaneously include the great ocean, they are not one. When the great ocean embraces one wave, nothing hinders it from embracing all other waves with its whole body. When one wave includes the great ocean, all other waves also include the ocean in its entirety. There is no obstruction whatsoever among them. Contemplate on this.” (Chang, pg. 214-215)
So let’s contemplate this a bit. Then let the ocean wash it all away. Sit down and perhaps this time turn around and face the wall.
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