This week, Annie will facilitate and we will listen to a recording of a section of Thay Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Fragrant Palm Leaves.
In this section (except can be heard here) Thay describes an awakening he had in 1962, while he was living in New York City, in which he realizes that he is "empty of ideals, hopes, viewpoints, or allegiances." In this hard won insight, he sees the truth of who he really is, and how each of us tends to allow ourselves to live under the rules and understandings that other people have passed down, rather than discovering them on our own. He prods us to consider whether we are really just living by someone else's rules and tries to inspire us to break out of this shell and touch the truth as it is in each moment.
I love this section because I find myself often wanting to follow and accept society's standards and practices out of expedience, even when I know in my heart I don't agree with them. Rather than open myself to what is true for me in the moment, I get caught up in what I read, watch or hear about. So reading this section again, inspired me to really try to focus on the truth that exists for me in this moment. Thay once told a friend of mine that books and sangha are important, but that the present moment is our trueteacher. I hear that same teaching in this excerpt and I aspire to keep it in the forefront of my mind.
More of what he writes:
"I knew that this insight did not arise from disappointment, despair, fear, desire or ignorance. A veil lifted silently and effortlessly. That is all. If you beat me, stone me, or even shoot me, everything that is considered to be "me" will disintegrate. Then, what is actually there will reveal itself -- faint as smoke, elusive as emptiness - and yet neither smoke nor emptiness; neither ugly nor not ugly; beautiful, yet not beautiful. It is like a shadow on a screen..."
"I reject the yardstick others use to measure me. I have a yardstick of my own, one I've discovered myself, even if I find myself in opposition to public opinion. I must be who I am...
"People judge themselves and others based on standards that are not their own.In fact, such standards are mere wishful thinking, borrowed from public opinion and common viewpoints. One thing is judged as good and another as bad, one thing virtuous and another evil, one thing true and another false. But when the criteria used to arrive at such judgments are not your own, they are not the truth. Truth cannot be borrowed. It can only be experienced directly."
After our first period of sitting and walking, I will offer a guided meditation and after that we will listen to the excerpt. Then, we will have the opportunity to share on whatever arises in our hearts about Thay's story. Some questions we might consider are: Have you had an insight of non-self or emptiness? How do you judge yourself and others -- by your own yardstick or someone else's? What do you feel is underneath the "outer shell" Thay refers to? And when are you the grasshopper on the blade of grass?
Looking forward to being with you all,