Small Talk: Always Facing the World

Like the moon in its many phases, human beings, trees, mountains, asteroids, and amoebas are all subject to moment-by-moment creation and destruction.

Original caption from NASA: "S103-E-5037 ...
The full moon partially obscured by Earth’s atmosphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most people who understand the law of impermanence understand the appearance of things created and destroyed.  But only Buddhas recognize the creation of the created and the creation of the destroyed.  Creation and destruction are entirely an appearance.  This coming and going of things in our lives can make us either miserable or delighted.  When we lose something we want or have to deal with something we dislike, we recognize our suffering right away.  When things are OK, or even better than OK, we recognize a sense of gratifying pleasure.  And although nothing has been lost or gained, and the situation itself has not caused our reaction, those who do not know how to look will derive only suffering from their self-clinging.  It is often thought that Zen meditation (zazen) will help one evade, or block out, the reality of change, or somehow cacoon impermanence in a silent numbness, but that is not the case.   We can’t avoid change any more than the moon can avoid going through its phases.

But the moon reveals more than just a series of phases.  If you’ve ever studied the moon, you know that, even though it continuously waxes and wanes, it is always the same side of the moon that faces Earth.   It is like this in meditation too.  We take a step back and look with a keen, non-reactive awareness at the reality we are living.  We directly and honestly face the world as squarely as we can, carefully and objectively observing the reality of change, and the unreality of our desires that would oppose it.  As the haze of unreality clears, we gradually discern a constancy that lies behind it all.  That constancy is beyond all knowing; it is beyond all desires.

In practicing zazen, therefore, you can discover the side of you that is always facing the world.  Then, even as you and the world turn and change, you will be ready for anything that comes.

Now I will tell you that, at the moment when the great master Nagyaharajuna transmitted the Dharma to Kanadaiba, he is said to have appeared as the full moon.  How do you understand this?  Is this full moon a “phase,” or is it the true “face” of Nagyaharajuna?  If you say “phase,” you have closed your eyes; if you say “face,” you are blind.  And if you know how to answer in an instant, how does that help you in your daily life?