4 – Returning

On Friday morning I made breakfast and ate it alone at my dining room table.

4 Carlin Emily Poem 2


Merton writes, “It is usually thought in the West that a Buddhist simply turns away from the world and other people as ‘unreal’ and cultivates meditation in order to enter a trance and eventually a complete negative state of Nirvana” (92). It turns out that this complete detachment from the world is just about the opposite of enlightenment. Those who are able to detach from their own selves and thus become compassionate end up “return[ing] to the world of change.” As Merton writes, “To one who has seen it [reality], the most obvious thing is to do what Dr. Suzuki suggests: to live one’s ordinary life” (137). Last week I wrote about Chomei’s unhappy realization that “leaving the world” for an ascetic existence was no guarantee of this kind of enlightenment. When he wrote, of his simple hut, “Yet the way I love this hut / is itself attachment”, he was struggling with what Merton deems, “the last and subtlest of the attachments: the attachment to one’s own spiritual excellence” (125). This is certainly the stumbling block I encounter when I think about cultivating this emptiness and openness in my own life. It feels nearly impossible to get out of myself. Perhaps this is why we have religion: it imposes (needed) form on the human quest for spiritual clarity. In this sense, what unites Buddhism and Christianity (perhaps all religions?) is that they are forms intended to help move people in the direction of “experiencing the reality behind the concept” (the “below the line” reality from Inouye’s diagram) and then to “liv[ing] one’s ordinary life” (Merton, 138) with the emptiness/openness that perspective allows.

This entry was posted in Week 4: Nothingness. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 4 – Returning

  1. Emily,

    I love your poem, and how you chose to hand-write it with your drawing. It reminds me a lot of the horse urination poem, and the discussion that we had in class this past Wednesday. When reading it, I was able not only to picture the exact moment, but also to realize the culmination of quiet focus and common observation. The first two lines (Mug/full of coffee) both selfless in their image and self-oriented in their simplicity. The gravity of the experience is conveyed in the lack of distraction, in your concentration on the specialness of the thing in front of you. There is nothing to separate you from that exact moment, nothing to shift your sense of significance. I think Busho would be very proud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *