Reality and Enlightenment

I did not have a lyrical moment this week

To reach enlightenment from a Buddhist perspective we must become one with both everything and nothing. How is this dichotomy work exactly in the Buddhist mindset? We can reach harmony or oneness with our surroundings through the following of michi or do (the way) (Lecture 2/11). Do is used to break from the cycles of day to day life (also known as samsara) by providing us with the clarity to shatter the illusion of our reality (Inouye 51). Practices like judo or kendo helps us to reach that breaking point where we see the world for what it is (Lecture 2/11). I myself encountered this almost trance-like state last summer when I was cleaning out a neighbor’s pool. By engaging in the repetitive act of dipping the net in the water to skim off leaves, I lost my sense of self and was absorbed in the task, despite its tediousness. By participating in my own form of “the way,” I can draw close the nothingness of enlightenment. What I have trouble understanding is the nature of this “nothingness.” Merton remarks that “zero=infinity, infinity=zero” (Merton 107).  Perhaps nothingness in this sense refers to the innate contradiction of oneness with everything and the “zero point” we talked about in class. We try to fill the hole that makes us whole by, in my opinion at least, losing our sense of self and our tenuous grip on what we perceive to be reality. In the play Atsumori, the monk Kumagai says that “life is a fleeting dream, he only wakes who casts the world aside” (Seami 65). The reality we live in is an illusion created by our minds that we must break free of to reach enlightenment. If life is a dream, what do we wake up to? Nothingness is all that greets us. Buddhist may see this as an enlightening process but frankly, I am a little frightened of that very nothingness they try to attain if it comes at the price of losing one’s identity.

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