An Image in the Place of an Image

The other day, I felt moved to write as follows:

In my experience, there is no way around ascertaining one’s own necessity. As in, what do I really need, to live.

It’s possible for me to discover my necessity, in one movement of breath:

You must strive with all your might to bite through here and cut off conditioned habits of mind. Be like a person who has died the great death: after your breath is cut off, then you come back to life. Only then do you realize that it is as open as empty space. Only then do you reach the point where your feet are walking on the ground of reality.

(“Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu”, translated by J.C. and Thomas Cleary, pg 84)

“Died the great death” is letting go of any voluntary activity of body and mind. At some point, I find that holding still (as it were) cuts off the breath, that is “ascertaining my own necessity”. Coming back to life is coming back to my senses (including equalibrioception, proprioception, and graviception). When I come back to my senses, the location of my awareness can move even if the rest of me is still, that is “open as empty space”; the rest of me can move when the location of my awareness is still (“the millstone turns but the mind does not”), that is “feet walking on the ground of reality”. I can breathe.

In my experience, there is no way around ascertaining one’s own necessity, most immediately in the movement of breath.

Yuanwu’s ‘feet walking on the ground of reality’ reminded me today of Jesus’s teaching, as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas:

…when you make eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, (and) an image in the place of an image, then shall you enter [the Kingdom].”

(The Gospel According to Thomas, coptic text established and translated by A. Guillaumont, H.-CH. Puech, G. Quispel, W. Till and Yassah ‘Abd Al Masih, pg 18-19 log. 22, copyright 1959 E. J.
Brill)

In my recentĀ Shikantaza and Gautama the Buddha’s “Pleasant Way of Living”, I said:

‘To the extent that the necessity for pressure in the “fluid ball” of the abdomen engenders experience of equalibrioception, graviception, and proprioception, to that extent some feeling for the posture supported by the distinction of the senses is gained as the pressure is sustained.’

The ‘feeling for the posture supported by the distinction of the senses’ allows me to make an eye in the place of an eye, a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot. This morning I asked myself, does feeling for the posture supported by the distinction of the senses allow me to make an image in the place of an image? If I take the word ‘image’ to mean the location of my awareness, the question becomes: does feeling for the posture supported by the distinction of the senses allow me to locate my awareness in the place of the location of my awareness?

Let me say that I don’t know whether or not the word underlying the translation ‘image’ has the meaning I am giving it, yet the meaning that I’m giving it is the one that has significance to me.

The writing of mine I quote from above largely concerns the emphasis some Zen teachers place on the role of the ‘tanden’, or ‘hara’ in the experience of shikantaza. My own experience with the ‘tanden’ would indicate to me that I am indeed making an image in the place of an image, when my awareness collects in my lower abdomen.

The way the feeling for posture overflows from the ‘tanden’ to the tailbone and becomes support to the surface of the skin seems to me also a function of ‘an image in the place of an image’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *