Monday, January 24, 2005


Filled the offering bowls with water this morning, and left them filled: a commitment to practice again tonight. I like to think of the water, by turns quiet and trembling, as the house is busy or still, while I am at work.

It's not possible to determine what I will do tomorrow, or next week. Not even possible to determine what I will do five minutes from now. Whether I'll be moving toward my goals or sliding away from them. It's not given to us -- fortunately -- to chain our future selves with present commitments.

But at any given moment it's possible to turn and change which direction I'm facing. That's what any vow or commitment is: a way of emphatically turning myself towards something. And no matter whether, in this life, I get closer or farther away. What matters, all that matters, is the turning.

The light is always there. Turning opens just a little hole in the shroud. What good, I might think, is opening a little hole? But that's to think of these functions as linear, which they certainly are not. The light gathers and accelerates, and worries any little hole open wider, till it's pouring in, and saturating even the rags of the shroud as they peel away. I know that from experience, as surely as I know also that the shroud grows, when I'm not looking at it. That, maybe, is a linear function. Gradually, imperceptibly but steadily, it knits itself together and spreads over my face, and binds my hands.

Does the light itself blossom and wither periodically? That's not the orthodox view, but that's what it looks like from here, and it's hard to understand, otherwise -- given the power and solvency of the light -- why it doesn't just win out, the moment of the very first turning, the very first glimmering of awareness. Where does the dark come from, in which the shroud grows? And is it possible to influence, or even see, when it's getting dark? Is there a skillful way to be in the dark, such that the shroud at least doesn't grow, or doesn't grow as fast, while I wait for morning?

Or maybe this is the skillful way to be in the dark. Just turning, whenever my mind can reach for it. Like sitting shamatha. There's no way to prevent distractions from arising, and there's no way to make them go away when I'm in the midst of them. But the time always comes, eventually, when I'm aware that I'm distracted. And at that moment I can bring the mind back. & That's the complete description of the task of shamatha. I think maybe it's like that. The critical thing is to recognize that moment of awareness, and to recognize that nothing, nothing is more important than to seize that opportunity to turn, without a moment's hesitation, without any bridling or negotiating or hedging or insuring. Turn, again and again, until it's a habit.

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