Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Endless Kinhin, Chapter 4

4.

Endo opened the door of the hut and stepped outside. There were only a few inches of snow on the ground. He decided to leave his socks in the hut and wear only his sandals for kinhin. He knew the snow would be like needles to his feet, but it would be good training. He would be more connected to the earth.

On retreat, the monks were free to practice whatever form of meditation they wished. The important thing was mindfulness. Endo stepped slowly forward, feeling the snow crunch underneath his feet. He made his way through a grove of snow-covered juhyo trees. They were like great white monsters rising up before him. He watched them calmly. Green needles were scattered underneath them like blades of grass.

As Endo slowly made his way along the brook, under ginkos quaking gently in the wind, his mind wandered back to the woman in his dream. A Japanese saying came to him:

Atop Mt. Fuji
the heart descends
when there is nowhere
else to go.

Standing before the woman in his dream, faced with such beauty, it was a wonder he was not consumed with desire, as if he were lying in a funeral pyre. He remembered how she froze, and stared into him, and how instead of his desire for her being enflamed, it began to assume an awkward chill. It was not her that was frigid--he knew, by her eyes, that he could have her right then and she would have welcomed it. Rather, it was the presentation of the object of desire at that moment, and a kind of rapid cycling through the future that seemed to turn seconds into years, that filled him with the sense that he had already had her. Just before he woke, he did not feel novelty, the consumption of his longing, but the dreadful and nauseating feeling of familiarity, the breeding ground of discontent.

To assuage this unpleasant feeling, he returned to his mind, to the act of walking. The numbness in his toes from the cold snow was mildly distracting while he was thinking, but now it had grown into a warm throbbing. He centered his mind on this pain, and entered into the discomfort. With each step, the pain began to lose its edge, and as his mind entered more deeply into the source of his pain, his whole body began to feel warm, as if it were absorbing it. It was not long before he was walking with a scomplete awareness of everything around him. And not only around him, but inside him--his body, his thoughts, his breath. Cold does not long to be warm; warmth does not long to be cold. Cold is cold, warm is warm, and even that was a completely subjective assignment of value. In isolating the pain of "cold," he had entered into it, turned it inside out, and rendered it completely impotent.

It was an amazing feeling, walking in such a way. He stopped to remove his sandals, so he could feel more closely the crystals of snow melting beneath his feet. The feeling, like the word--"cold"--had become completely devoid of meaning. He marveled at this world of illusion, of things representing realities that were, in fact, empty vessels. He thought of a large basket, the kind pesants would use to carry their vegetables to the village marketplace. He imagined it on the ground, and himself stepping inside it. I am inside the basket, he thought. Then, he stepped out. I am outside the basket. Was one state--of being inside our outside--better than the other? How absurd to say, "it is better for one to be inside a basket than outside it," or even vice versa. Being both inside or outside, one remains in this world. The longing to be what we are not, to have what we have not...how crafty a monkey desire is! How cunning is Mara, Mother of Illusion! Will her appetite be ever sated?

Endo felt as if he was everywhere, and yet as a finite man, he was in fact confined to a single point in space. He was everywhere and somewhere...and nowhere. He crossed the brook, bending down to drink the water. How sweet it tasted! He sat on the bank and watched his breath leave his body, and disappear. He watched a band of finches hop and peck in the snow. One stopped to look at him, riveted. Endo sat motionless, eyes locked upon the birds beak. And suddenly, he was reminded of the swan, the woman in his dream. He glanced towards the birds. What were these? Small footprints pressed lightly in the snow, bigger than that of any animal, leading through a grove of bamboo. He felt a strange warmth, and got up to follow them.

(cont.)

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