I walked down the street as snow fell.
On the tar –
If our ability as humans to communicate meaning, to empathize with one another, to self-reflect, rides on top of “nothingness”, then nothingness is everywhere and nowhere in the human experience. The Japanese romanticize and spiritualize this experience in nōh theater: “Do not envy what is above you/Nor despise what is below you” (Zeami, 66) is a pearl of wisdom given by the young reaper to the repentant priest. The connection their conversation exemplifies is spiritual, literal, and also physically there. The conversation between the living and the dead is not a fantastic symbol – we seem to be expected to take it at face value. The wandering priest is completely open to the reaper and completely accepting of the nothingness that connects them. An understanding of openness and nothingness is exactly what Merton sees as key to achieving Nirvana (though I am not implying that Zeami’s priest achieves Nirvana). Indeed, Merton argues “Were we capable of a moment of perfect authenticity, of complete openness, we would see at once that Nirvana and Samsara are the same” (87). Merton prefaces that quote with a discussion of the importance of essentially conquering one’s own ego and selfish desires as necessary to achieving Nirvana. If you have conquered your ego, then you can achieve Nirvana. If you can achieve Nirvana, then you can fully accept and understand Samsara. “Having gained the ability to leave, the enlightened few turn back to help those who are still struggling” with Samsara (Inouye, 83). Understanding Samsara seems to be the same accomplishment as reaching Nirvana.