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