In religion we talk a lot about light. Seeing the light, enlightenment, the light of Buddha, the Buddha of infinite light, light brighter than the sun and the moon, and so on.
Yet light stands out in relation to darkness. It is just as important to talk about darkness - perhaps more so. Light is a hope. Darkness is a reality. We live in the midst of great dark and our work in religion, in a certain way, is to make that darkness more intense, more total, more complete.
This may seem a strange idea. Aren’t we supposed to be moving toward the light? Such a metaphor has a certain venerable meaning, but we are also told that the light is already everywhere, that it penetrates and pervades, so we don’t actually need to “move” or go somewhere other than where we already are.
So what is in the way? Basically, our own light. It is our own attempt to be clever that makes us resist the Dharma. We read or listen to lectures and all the while we are judging what we hear and on what criterion do we judge? We judge according to our own lights. We do not really become dark and let the light in.
I am not suggesting, by saying this, that we should stop using our intellectual faculty or just become sponges. What I mean is that there is a certain way of receiving the deep spirit of a teaching - a kind of empathic understanding - that requires one to be a kind of mirror.
One should listen to a teaching the same way that a good therapist listens to a client. She does not necessarily even believe the things the client is saying, but she has a deep sympathy with him and senses the profound human spirit that comes through, sometimes even in spite of the words. That is the light. But to receive that light the therapist has to be in a kind of complete darkness, a state of innocence and openness as though on the first day of a newly created world. Or, rather on the day before the world is to be created in that place where “the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Thus darkness and stillness are the hallmarks of true religious contemplation. It is a kind of waiting - both waiting for and waiting upon. The one who waits is, in a way, invisible. One becomes nothing. Then there is an exquisite darkness and when it gets really dark the stars begin to appear.
I’m currently reading a book called The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts: and Other Tales. It’s quite an interesting book, divided in three parts. The first parts talks about Buddhism in daily life, the second part is about Buddhism applied to martial arts (same teachings as in the first part, but specific for the martial arts area) and the third part which are short traditional Japanese stories about Buddhism, life, death and other things.
It says a lot that our mind should act as a mirror and that we should behave as one. To do this, we need to get rid of ideas preconceived.
I remember that it talks a lot about getting rid of perceptions, as they are a personal view of life, not the truth. It mentions that in order to be capable of learning we must empty our mind so we can see things as they really are, not as we conceive them or as we want them to be, we must be capable to adapt to the environment and act accordingly.
As for the martial arts teachings, we must have the mind empty to be able to perceive the truth. We shouldn’t think we should act as we did in a similar situation, as this one is unique. We shouldn’t have in mind a kata, because that will block the natural flow of things.
An empty mind it’s not a mind with “nothing” as it has “everything”, it’s a mind capable of learning, adapting by seeing things as they are. It’s a mind with no predisposition. A mind that is also ready for anything that could happen (or ready for learning anything new), it’s flexible therefore accepting.
In my case, I do connect the emptiness with the darkness as it contains it all and it can become everything.
The liberated mind is full of all the spaces left by the things it has been liberated from. Each of those spaces has its own form of gratitude and can bring tears to the eyes. Each is dark. One cannot tell where one darkness ends and another begins. Only dark water reflects the light.
Eventually one becomes completely useless, with eyes that shine, whereupon gratitude becomes total. The useless person can turn his hand to whatever needs doing, does it and moves on, without having become anything in the process. Although he is a humble servant, nobody can use him.
To walk is to keep falling over, but not quite... as each step falls over the next falling over is already starting. Soldiers are always fighting the previous war, they say, and this is natural because one does what one knows, and in doing it one does not know what one is really doing because this is not the previous war. This is not even the current war. This is the next one already beginning and the nature of that is, as yet, completely unknown. How embarrassing life is!
We can talk about perceiving the truth and so on, but there is nothing to see that we could label truth any more than we know the name of what fills our empty hand. Yet we can feel the freedom. We might call it spaciousness. Anything may be put into that hand, but the night sky is already full of ancient stars. His hands are full of the universe of tomorrow.