in and out of the stream of unknowing

Reading Meister Eckhart’s sermons we learn that God is not to be found here and is not to be found there, he is not to be found anywhere or in anything. We learn that God is a no-thing-ness, we learn he is nowhere in the world and because he is nowhere, being in no particular place, he is everywhere as he is the boundless opening from which everything springs forth. “God is the true light: to see it, one must be blind, and must strip of God all that is ‘something.’- Eckhart.”


In a Taoist story, we are told of a master and his student walking side by side on a riverbank. After some time spent in silence, the student turns to the master and asks: Can you teach me how to enter the Way? The master asks: do you hear the sound of the river running? Yes, the student replies. Through the sound of the river, you can enter the Way, replies the master.


Seeking the Way may bring us closer to the river. But once we see its form emerge from the mountain we need to forget we came to its whereabouts in order to seek the Way. We need to forget the seeking of the river, the seeking of the Way, the seeking mind itself, to allow for the streaming to pervade us. Entering the sound is the moment, not before and not after, when the river as the manifestation of the Way enters us through our every pore.

The mind that forgets itself in the act of remembering something other and bigger than itself is itself the Way; the boundless emptiness into which all forms, ideas, categories, bubbles on the surface of a stream, dream-bubbles, life-bubbles, death-bubbles, burst and disappear. Through the sound of water, we collapse into the river and are resurrected as the river and this wholeness.


In another exchange, Zen Master Nansen is asked by a student what the Way is. “Ordinary mind is the Way”, replies the teacher. “Do I need to direct myself towards it?”, asks the student. Nansen replies:” You will betray your own practice if you try to direct yourself towards it.” The realization of the way does not depend on our moving towards or moving away from it for the way is right before us in every footstep, it is underfoot. It is in every step. The journey of a thousand miles beginning with every single step (Lao-Tzu) means the journey itself is in that and that single step. That single step where a thousand miles and a thousand travelers begin their endless journey and come to find endless rest.


In the Shin Jin-Mei, the oldest recorded Zen poem, we read: “The Way is not difficult, just stop picking and choosing”. To stop picking and choosing is stepping out of our own way long enough for the Way to reveal itself to us. What reveals itself is the simplicity of the wind blowing into the wood without choosing between the pines. It is in the ease of the stream flowing over the riverbed without picking out the stones. It is in the rays of the sun reaching out to the wicked and the wise, lighting both litter and flowers as it does not choose what it shines on.


The moment of letting go of self-images, of ungrasping, of opening the heart, the moment of forgetting the seeking and the seizing is the moment when the Way goes right through us and comes right out of us in the same breath. In the midst of the Way, we don’t know where we stand. The Way disappears leaving only the way in its wake, the every day, the “the ordinary mind is the Way.” At that moment the seeker and the sought both disappear. They disappear in the still point that is neither stillness nor movement. What remains is the dance, the dance of perpetual change, impermanence, the way. “…Neither movement from, nor towards… Neither ascent nor decline… Except for the point, the still point….There would be no dance, and there is only dance. T.S.Eliot “


To awaken is to realize that the river is not outside, the river is not inside. The river is not what runs along the valley nor is the river above us in the blinking stars afloat in the Milky Way. The river is nowhere yet there is nowhere that it does not flow and there is nothing that is not part of its flowing for it is infinite in its reaching out.


To look for the river is to miss its streaming. There is just a flow, we are not apart from that flow, we are that flow. We don’t know from where it is coming, it keeps coming, we don’t know where it goes, and it keeps going. It flows in and out of emptiness; it is emptiness flowing in and out of the river, out of the Milky Way, out of us, out of silence. It flows in, it flows out, it flows through and it overflows in the intimacy of not knowing.

“Where are you going?” Dizang asks the monk as he is about to leave the monastery all dressed in his traveling clothes. “I’m going around on a pilgrimage”, replies Fayan. Dizang asks, “To what purpose your pilgrimage?” The student answers, “I don’t know”. Dizang says, “Not knowing is most intimate”.



At the heart of Zen practice, there is a  wonderment, it is a stream, it is closest and it flows in and flows out of not knowing.

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© MAITRI RETREATS 2017

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