Walking to class after a haircut, and feeling the wind on the freshly trimmed sides of my head.
The winter wind
On pale skin
Thomas Merton’s opening note immediately resonated with what I took away from the lecture last Wednesday. The entire concept of mu as it relates to Zen Buddhism is aptly captured in this brief yet telling introduction. He describes “Zen” as “the nothing, the no-body that…suddenly appears” (Merton, intro) after vultures have had their fill on a pile of carrion and have moved on. The fact that Zen is ever-present yet not subject to the physicality of our world (“…the scavengers missed it, because it was not their kind of prey”) made me think of what Professor Inouye had referred to as “mixing the transcendental and the here-and-now” (Inouye, lecture). In my mind, then, the force of Zen exists as a sort of “enlightened nothingness” – that is to say, a state of nothingness that slips through our fingers if we target it/search for it as an objective or goal, if we think of it as, in Merton’s words, “prey”. We cannot expect to reach it through text or scriptural tradition, but rather through physical experience. Self-affirmation of sunyata leads to faith in emptiness and, if faith equals practice and practice equals faith, the essence of Zen is created in the act of practicing nothingness. Then again, I thought, if Zen is not subject to the physicality of our world (in other words, it is devoid of form, structure, and everything in between), then how can it properly be expressed? Seeing as all genres of expression have a form, system or structure to them, I came to the conclusion that feeling the essence of Zen is wholly dependent on personal, direct experience. Otherwise, if one tries to share it or teach it, the structures inherently present in such methods of expression rest incompatible with Zen itself.