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Way of emptiness


Note: the original title “Weg van leegte” in Dutch, has three meanings: “Way of emptiness”, “Way from emptiness” and “Loving emptiness”

Halfway through the afternoon – when the boat is released by the rise of the tide – Narrator raises the anchor. Carla and Man hoist the sails and with a breeze from the west they sail with the flow in the direction of Lauwershaven.

“Where shall we moor tonight?”, asks Narrator to Man.

“With some luck southeast of Ameland. Tomorrow at the end of the morning – well before the change of weather – we will be back in the marina near Lauwersoog”, says Man.

“You are completely at home while sailing this boat: it seems that the boat, the waves, the wind and you fully go together. I recognise this, because looking back on my life I have always been completely at home in my four separate incarnations [1]: these have always fit me like the left eye and the left hand go together with the right eye and the right hand. In my third incarnation as wandering bhikṣu in Europe – following the annual migration of birds between South and North Europe – I have completely been absorbed in emptiness of meditation during my wanderings. My sense of time was gone, I lived in a timeless endlessness. If I look at you sailing in a relaxed and focused way, I perceive complete natural meditation in action: the boat goes – with help of small movement of helm and sail – smoothly by itself over the waves”, says Narrator.

“For me, sailing is a form of meditation; I already sail a long time. As a high school student, I aimed to sail as fast as possible and let the boat – without loss of speed – spectacularly cut through the waves. Now I let the wind and waves do the work together with the boat and the sails; I steer only occasional, as during meditation I let lingering thoughts drift away”, says Man.

“It is very easy for you”, says Narrator.

“That is partly true, I have to keep my attention and thoughts focused on the direction that we want to go and on the shoals that we must avoid. Meditation on a pillow is endlessly easier for me”, says Man.

“That is true for humans. I am not sure whether this is also true for other beings. A Buddhist teacher compares meditation with sitting as a frog. [2] Sitting is an everyday activity for a frog. The teacher says:

”When you are you, you see things as they are and you become One with your surroundings”.

In everyday life I see humanity often focused on a small part of oneself. Because of this, they lose sight of the things as they are – they confuse a wave with the ocean – and thus estrange from their surroundings.

Kikker[3]

Before we sailed away this afternoon, I saw the high tide arriving in waves; observing the interplay of waves and shells on the flats, this haiku originated:

In every wave
Nothing comes and goes;
Shell in the tide

Maybe this haiku came forth form the poem “Shell” by the Japanese poet Shinkichi Takahashi:

“Nothing, nothing at all is born, dies”, the shell says again and again
From the depth of hollowness.
Its body swept off by the tide – so what?
It sleeps in sand drying in sunlight, bathing in moonlight [4],
Nothing to do with sea or anything else.
Over and over it vanishes with the wave [5]

Since 30 years ago – at the opening of blossom buttons in the warmth of the sun – upon saying goodbye to my beloved [6], I carry this poem with me”, says Narrator.

“This haiku and poem give a voice to my perception of unicity – in oneness and uniqueness – while sailing”, says Man.

“Almost always when I’m busy with only one activity, I experience this feeling of oneness. When doing several things at once – for example: quickly packing luggage for a journey and also dealing with all kind of practical matters, such as paying bills, call people, etc. –, my experience of oneness evaporates in the cross swell caused by dividing my attention”, says Carla.

“The boat rocks so beautiful now; I will go back to sleep. Would you wake me at the beginning of the evening? Or no, please wake me when the boat has moored at low tide”, says Narrator.

Man sails the boat with help from Carla to the planned mooring. Carla and Man lower the sails, drop the anchor and let the boat moor. Carla wakes Narrator as promised.

“You have already ignited the lamp in the kitchen. Shall I prepare the supper for tonight? What would you like to drink? I have one last bottle of red wine”, says Carla.

“Nice, I think we have enough bread tonight and tomorrow”, says Man.

“I would prefer some water first, do we still have enough water left?”, asks Narrator.

“More than enough for two days”, says Man.

“Before I went to sleep, I thought that this afternoon – during our conversation while sailing – I have done injustice to everyday life. A Buddhist question focuses on the importance of everyday life. The question is as follows:

A student [7] asks a teacher: “What is the way (Tao)?”. The teacher answers: “Daily life [8] is the way”. The student asks: “Should we direct ourselves to it or not?”. The teacher answers: “If you direct to it, you go away from it”. The student asks: “If we do not direct to it, how can we know it is the way?”. The teacher answers: “The way does not belong to knowing and not-knowing. Knowing is an illusion, not-knowing is emptiness of consciousness. If you realise [9] the way, you perceive this way as vast and boundless as the endless empty firmament. How can the way be seen as right or wrong”. With this answer the consciousness was like the full moon. [10]

Maan eenMaan twee[11]

And the poem accompanying this question reads:

Flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
A cool breeze in summer, and snow in winter;
If there is no vain cloud in your mind,
For you it is a good season.

Upon reading this poem I have made this haiku:

Every season
Without a cloud in your mind
A good season

This question covers by all means the way of emptiness, of the All-encompassing One and of everyday life”, says Narrator.

“This is a famous question from the Mumonkan [12] – in English the “Gateless Gate” – the gateless gate to the gate of emptiness whereby every distinction within the All-encompassing One (or “being-whole” according to Martin Heidegger) is lifted. Via this question a Buddhist teacher has realised enlightenment: the voice of this teacher still sounds within all and everything. A student of this teacher was once confronted with a famous phrase by this teacher, whereupon the student said: “My teacher never said this. Please do not gossip about my teacher“. I think this student is referring to the universal teacher inseparable included within the All-encompassing One wherein also his former teacher completely coincides [13].
Mentioning the “Gateless Gate”, I think that we have arrived at the mantra of the Heart Sutra. Can you explain the meaning of this mantra in Sanskrit”, asks Man to Narrator.

“Delicious cheese with bread. Please, could you pour me some wine?”, asks Narrator to Carla.

“Please”, says Carla.

“The wine tastes wonderful with cheese and bread. It is like a dessert at this short boat trip.
The Heart Sūtra is one of the few sūtras with a mantra; hereby can be seen that it is a later Buddhist sūtra, because mantras became popular in India well after the onset of Buddhism [14].

The mantra is as follows:

tadyathā | gate gate pāragate pārasaṅgate bodhi svāhā

Wherein the separate words have the following meaning:

  • • “Tadyathā” consists of:
    • “tad” meaning “also, in this world”,
    • “ya”: we have seen this word in śūnyatā and it has the meaning “mover” and “incentive”. My father was of the opinion that “ya” is closely related to “√yaj” in the sense of “sacrifice”, “offering for a higher – Godlike/heavenly– purpose” (perhaps “God’s gift” in reciprocity). My father has also told me once that “ya” is connected with our word “yeah” as positive consent and confirmation,
    • “yathā” meaning “in this manner”,
      Hereby “tadyathā” has the meaning: “all thus”. The full literary meaning is: “All-encompassing One” or “being-whole” here and now in all its glory – as “God’s gift” in complete reciprocity.
  • The word “gate” has for me a very special meaning. I had lived one year of my life with my beloved lived in the Prästgatan – the priest street – on the island of Gamla Stan in Stockholm [15]. In Sanskrit “gate” is not only a conjugation of the verb “gam” meaning “to go”, but it is also the “locative or place-conjugation” of the noun derived from the verb “to go”. Thereby “gata” has the meaning of “disappeared, disappeared from this world, deceased, dead, gone, come, come forth, near, arrive, know, and spread everywhere” [16].

Prästgatan[17]

  • The word “para” is used in Sanskrit in three ways with the following meanings:
    • pāra: crossing, the other side, the other shore, guardian, fulfil, go through, to bring to a close. In Buddhism “the other shore” is used as metaphor for enlightenment.
    • parā: away, off, aside
    • para: highest, supreme, old, ancient, better or worse, and sometimes also superior or inferior.
      Here the first meaning of the word is used; my father added that while using one way and meaning of the word para, the other ways and meanings are always gently resonating.
  • The word “sam” meaning: “together, binding, intensity, complete, and completely destroyed”,
  • Bodhi: perfect wisdom, enlightened mind,
  • Svāhā: exclamation at an offer, hallelujah or “amen”.
    Usually this mantra is not translated; freely rendered the meaning of this mantra is:
    All thus, gone, gone, gone beyond, all and everyone gone together beyond, enlightenment, amen!

One commentator [18] has written that the first “gate” refers to the deep inner desire to enter the path of the Bodhisattva, the second “gate” refers to obtaining inner maturity and the third “gate” together with “pāra” to a perfect maturity – or probably enlightenment.
I think that every form of “gate” and every word in this mantra – like every word that we speak – directly and without distinction refers to the All-encompassing One or the “being-whole” as described by Martin Heidegger.

In the long version of the Sutra, several confirmations of the truth of the contents of the Sūtra and a few words of praise for the attendees follow upon the mantra; in the short version the Sutra ends with this mantra.

Time for some bread and wine”, says Narrator.

“What can I add to this introduction on the Heart Sūtra? Of course, a complete study as lifework can be made on many details and on the content and the influence of this sūtra. But I think the biggest challenge is the integration of the content of this sūtra in our daily lives. I do my best, but often I am carried away by the everyday concerns and ordinary issues”, says Man.

“The daily concerns and issues of the day are part of our “being-whole”: these concerns and the issues of the day are perfectly encompassed in “being-whole” and they certainly require attention – or better compassion – to receive a suitable place in our “being-whole” without outshining everything and causing a Buddhist hell. This compassion is nicely displayed in the words “All-encompassing One” for our “being-whole””, says Narrator.

“Until now, I have followed the introduction without giving significant additions, also because I want to take note of this new way of looking at emptiness. Now we have come to the end of the introduction, I see that the merging between “being-whole” and our everyday life provides a good basis for ethics; many ethical principles and assumptions of humanity and compassion are in some way based hereupon.

I understand this basis – static and dynamic – intellectually. But emotionally, I struggle to unite change, renewal and aging in our lives within the merging between “being-whole” and everyday life. In addition, I do not know how the miracle of “life” relates to the merger between “being-whole” and the issues of the day via superposition. Or in a metaphor: how does the hologram of impressions – that we have – relate to the whole interplay within Indra’s net, and also, where does the light within Indra’s net come from?”, says Carla.

“The miracle of the origin of life, the light and the origin of change seems to be beyond our comprehension, although we are constantly right in the middle of this miracle: just as the fish who will discover water as last although the fish is completely immersed herein. By being complete involvement, we live it constantly and completely”, says Narrator.

“What do you think of my following proposal: shall we locate “change” – the following common reality in our quest to “Who are you” – on a holiday tour in Kenya? It is my wish to go to Africa once in my life, and I understand that Carla also would like to return to Kenia again. I can easily offer the travel and stay from my funds. Narrator, I understand that you cannot travel to Africa because of your past as a child soldier and your former role in the worlds of secret services for which you are still on the run: maybe we should forget this proposal”, says Man.

Kenia[19]

“No, I think it’s a very good idea. I would like to hear a report of this tour to the country of my mother and my childhood. During the report, I will give the necessary additions. In the meantime, I can make preparations for the first two sub-parts “Ishvara” and “Et incarnatus est” of part three of the quest. These two sub-parts of the third part will fit well with “emptiness” in the form of “being-whole””, says Narrator.

“I would like to accept this offer gladly, but I have reservations about the absence of Narrator on this tour”, says Carla.

“From a distance I will travel constantly with you: I will breathe with your breath and will look with your eyes. If you will not go, I will not breathe the air of Africa and I will not see my homeland again with your eyes. I will join you on this tour within the emptiness of the “All-encompassing One”, says Narrator.

“Would you like one last sip of wine from the bottle? Maybe Man and I should fulfil our desire to visit Africa”, says Carla.

“Let us yet share the last sip of your wine with my bread and cheese before you go to sleep. And you should definitely go: I look forward to hear your experiences and learn the changes that have taken place in my homeland”, says Narrator.

“Yes, please one last sip of your delicious wine. We will sail away tomorrow at dawn. It’s good that Carla and I go to bed early; would you like to wake me up when you wish to transfer the vigil?”, asks Man to Narrator.

“I will keep the vigil; I will wake you at dawn, because I cannot sleep under the starry sky”, says Narrator.

After a few moments, Carla and Man go to bed. The next morning they sail to the marina near Lauwersoog. There they prepare the boat for the transfer to the friend of Man.
Mid-afternoon Carla and Man say goodbye to Narrator at the bus station.

“I am looking forward to see my friend in Groningen. Over 25 years ago we were both lovers within a turbulent life in Amsterdam, but now we are good friends who both have a pleasant life: he as an associate professor in Groningen and I am a wandering monk. Our mutual passion is gone, but the mutual compassion has remained. We are pleased to be able to see each other again: many of our friends did not survive the AIDS-era in Amsterdam. Meeting him again, I will also meet the deceased common old friends. I wish you a nice trip in Africa during the coming weeks. When you are back, I will contact you”, says Narrator.

“I am looking forward to your postcard for our next meeting”, says Man.

“I will let you know when I am back at Schiphol Airport. There is the bus to Groningen. Send my regards to your friend”, says Carla.

“And mine too”, says Man.

Near dinnertime the boat is ready for the transfer. At sunset Carla and Man drive to a hotel for overnight stay nearby.

Waddenzee[20]

During the next morning a storm rages over the Wadden Sea and hunts the water forth.

Voidness of the storm
In the water of the sea,
Hunts the waves forth

[1] See: Leben, Man, Narrator Nārāyana – One way – One Biography. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013, p. 202
[2] Source: Suzuki, Shunryu, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice. New York: Weatherhill, 1980, p. 80
[3] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kikkers
[4] In Buddhism the Moon is often a reference to religion – or to the All-encompassing One.
[5] Source: Stryk, Lucien & Ikemoto, Takashi, Zen Poetry. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, 1981, p.133
[6] See: Leben, Man, Narrator Nārāyana – One way – One Biography. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013, p. 131 – 135
[7] This student is the later teacher Zhaozhou Congshen, who is also known as Joshu (the name whereby he is known in Japan). See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhaozhou_Congshen
[8] Free rendering of “The ordinairy way”
[9] Narrator has already given an explanation of “realise”: “My father has heard from his ancestors the meaning of the keyword “realise” that is composed of “re”, “all”, “Īśe” [this is the locative of Īśa whereby Īśa means in het Sanskrit amongst others “God in celestial heaven”, “One who is completely master of”. The sound of Īśa has similarity with “ich” – the German first person singular]. Herewith realise means amongst other “honouring” “again and again”, “all”, “in its all-encompassment”. See also: Leben, Man, Narrator Nārāyana – One way – One Biography. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013, p. 126
[10] See also: Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 2000, p. 140 – 147; Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990, 93 – 97; Green, James, The Recorded Sayings of Zen Master Joshu. Boston: Shambhala, 1998, p. 11
[11] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_moon
[12] The Mumonkan – in Engish mostly translated with Gateless Gate – is a collection of 48 Zen Koans that is compiled by the monk Mumon in the 13th century AC.
The character 無 (wú) has a fairly straightforward meaning: no, not, or without.
However, within Chinese Mahayana Buddhism, the term 無 (wú) is often a synonym for 空 (sunyata). This implies that the 無 (wú) rather than negating the gate (as in “gateless”) is specifying it, and hence refers to the “Gate of Emptiness”.
This is consistent with the Chinese Buddhist notion that the “Gate of Emptiness” 空門 is basically a synonym for Buddhism, or Buddhist practice. 門 (mén) is a very common character meaning door or gate. However, in the Buddhist sense, the term is often used to refer to a particular “aspect” or “method” of the Dharma teachings. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gateless_Gate
[13] See also: Shibayama, Zenkei, The Gateless Barrier, Zen Comments on the Mumonkan. Boston: Shambhala, 2000, p. 262, middle of the page; Yamada Kôun Roshi, Gateless Gate (Mumonkan). Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1990, 178, last paragraph
[14] Source: Lopez, Donald S. – The Heart Sutra explained Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1990 p. 109
[15] Zie ook: : Leben, Man, Narrator Nārāyana – One way – One Biography. Amsterdam: Omnia – Amsterdam Publisher, 2013, p. 103 – 133
[16] Source: electronic version of the dictionary Monier-Williams – MWDDS V1.5 Beta
[17] Source image: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pr%C3%A4stgatan
[18] The name of this commentor is Śrimahājana. Source: Lopez, Donald S. – The Heart Sutra explained Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1990 p. 111
[19] Source image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maasai_people
[20] Source image: http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waddenzee

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