“As an artist, there has to be an allegiance to wonder and awe and mystery, and a willingness to quest beyond truth … What is the meaning of rain? Rain doesn’t have a secret. It just exists. It’s the same with music. You experience music. Why do we cry listening to Bach? There’s no meaning inherent in the notes.”
In anticipation of his upcoming visit, we shared Ocean Vuong’s poetry and prose, reading from his three primary works: Night Sky with Exit Wound, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and Time Is a Mother.
I’ve been thinking about how unreliable a witness I can sometimes be in my own life. In my life movie, called “Crafting My Self,” are a few lines like this: “That was wrong for him to criticize me.” “I deserved to be treated better.” “Boy, what was her motive behind that?” It is a big project, Self, and takes a lot of ongoing work.
Yes, the movie has a feminist message. Sometimes that message felt uncomfortably familiar as my “patriarchal” genes vibrated a bit. But the full message, for me, was greater than a discussion of male and female roles in society: it was about a person seeking freedom to realize their own being.
“DARK-ENIGMA 玄 is perhaps the most foundational concept in this Daoist/Chan cosmology/ontology. Dark-enigma is Way before it is named, before Absence and Presence give birth to one another—that region beyond name and ideation where consciousness and the empirical Cosmos share their source.”
“Chan’s central project is the reintegration of consciousness with that source-tissue, a reintegration that represents a return to our deepest roots in the Paleolithic with its reverence for the generative female nature of reality. This reintegration is also our deepest form of love, a kindred love at primordial levels for the loom’s ten thousand things in their vast transformations.”
Recently, I chatted with a friend about how words and explanations somehow entangle and rob us of directly experiencing life. In koan work, we call that attachment to words “telling” rather than “showing.” There is no freedom in telling; it makes our lives smaller, less than. Buddhists have a name for “telling”—dukkha, suffering, and attachment; “showing” is bodhi, awakening.
Revisiting this koan, my heart identified with the crushing despair Jiashan must have felt from falling just short of his goal of awakening. For years, he had played out a thousand feet of fish line, but still needed three more inches.
A student asked Baling, “What is the blown-hair sword?”
Baling said, “Each branch of coral holds up the light of the moon.”
—Blue Cliff Record Case 100, transl. by John Tarrant & Joan Sutherland
What does it mean to “meet?” I have been encountering the word so often lately, it has become a kind of koan for me. The Old English root is mētan, meaning “to come upon.” The Chinese characters are 相見 which mean “seeing each other,” and in Zen is the formal first meeting between a teacher and student. Where will we see each other?