In the space, he said. In the space between the ripening of karma and our reaction to it, between (as we might say) the arising of an emotion and the construction of a storyline about it, there is a hairsbreadth of space, that's where you have a choice. Too small to see for most people most of the time. Meditate, watch closely, sometimes you can see it.
She said: you call that a choice, but that seems wrong. I'm not aware of any choice there. It seems like the choice must be somewhere else. (Tears, tears etched into the face, but dignity beyond the human -- she frightens me sometimes.)
Choice is the wrong word, he agreed. It carries too much baggage. Call it freedom.
But it is possible to act out of that space, he said.
And I realized just what an impossible wacko cult I belong to. Forget amulets and prophets and reincarnation and glittering deities -- those are sober science and ordinary daily experience, compared to claiming that someone could act out of that stillness. (Later he lifted the bell and the vajra, visual aids, making a simple point about wisdom and skillful means. The world rocked. Was I the only one that noticed?)
It's no wilder than our workaday delusion of a sovereign self, which, unswayed by cicumstances, says I choose this or I choose that. He justly compared that to a man jumping out of an airplane and thinking, "hmm, shall I choose to fall up or fall down?" We are hagridden by our self-conception, mercilessly driven by our sifted, censored image of reality. Never are we less free, never more predictable, never more chained to the past, than when we make what we fondly call "choices."
And yet. Something like freedom must be, or there could be no consciousness at all. We would be frozen solid. There would be no need for awareness and no opportunity for it. Nagarjuna demonstrated many centuries ago that If things had inherent existence, change would be impossible. As a corollary -- if we had no freedom, the question of whether we had freedom would never arise.
What good is freedom, you might say, if it lives in such a narrow space?
But I don't think that anyone who's ever experienced the power of that half-second of liberty could ever ask that question.
This is the beginning of the end. Late or soon, the tower will fall. This is what you see first: a few grains of sand trickling from the stressed foundations. It means though that the whole fortress is collapsing. Maybe not today, maybe not this lifetime, or the next, or the next eon, or the next kalpa, or the next cycle of the big bang. Doesn't matter. The trumpet's been blown. The thing's coming down.