Tending the Inconceivable

(A post from a month or two ago that in our technical troubles couldn’t get posted.)

Several posts ago I asked the question of whether Zen practice makes us better people. That’s a reasonable question to ask of the collective, but individually the question is more bare: is it working for me?

I’m wondering that. I have some significant evidence on both sides of the issue, but the fact is I don’t know.

I mean I really, really don’t know.

This not knowing, in fact, has been filling me up, overflowing me this last month plus at Tassajara. It’s been a not-knowing not just in the sense of “I’m not capable of completing the calculation that will determine my level of Dharma success,” but more like utter stupefaction . . . “What?!”

What is this?!

Zen Ancestor Hongzhi (or, following Hondo’s recent posts, I should say his translator, Taigen Leighton) says to “wander into the center of the circle of wonder.” That’s where I’m finding myself, again and again. A marvelously stupefying wonder at just the fact of being at all.

“Statistically impossible,” a friend said long ago, of existence itself.

Impossible, inconceivable, mysterious—it’s not an unpleasant feeling, although from somewhere outside of it some doubt may arise about whether such a feeling is worthwhile or worth cultivating, or can go anywhere. Such doubt is, of course, utterly foreign to the wonder itself—what would it even mean to go somewhere, when I can’t even for a moment grasp who it is who would go, much less what it might move through?

But if I indulge enough “knowing” to grasp the terms of the doubt, I can appreciate that just resting in wonder—particularly a self-proclaimed “stupefied” wonder—could be a stopping on the path, a pleading ignorance in the face of the real inner and outer work at hand.

The shuso—head student—here at Tassajara, who is also a farmer, who is also my wife, spoke recently of practice like farming: tending an inconceivable process.

Tending an inconceivable process.

That sounds right—not knowing how it works or making it work right, but tending a process far beyond the knowable and the unknowable, a process deeper and more beautiful than anything we could name or control.

I don’t know who or what I am, and I don’t know how this thing works or where it’s supposed to be going, but I can tend the visible, the conceivable. I can move dirt around to tend to the mystery, and then allow something far bigger than my effort to unfold.

In that, something can flower, and again flower. Flower as wonder, and again as knowing, and again as wonder.

I truly don’t know how we find ourselves on this beautiful road, but once we’re here it seems completely clear that moving forward is just one foot and then the next—a simple tending of that which is already unfolding.

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2 Responses to Tending the Inconceivable

  1. Taiyo says:

    How would you know? That is, how can you know without flipping back to an earlier time and viewing what you’d be like if you didn’t practice and then returning to now to see the difference. Still, perhaps there is a way to tell if it (are you calling practice ‘it?’) is working: are your friends encouraging you to continue? Are people thanking you for being upright and straightforward? Do people smile during conversations with them? Does your wife and child seem happy when you are around? I don’t think/believe using yourself as a guide as to whether practice is working for you is a very good way to know or find out … ask your teacher. In the end of course, practicing to make yourself better is just the first or second step into practice, an aspect that is good for beginning practice, but eventually, like counting one’s breath, ’tis best to give that up and just practice – the universe will take care of the rest.

  2. James says:

    Lovely meditation, Jiryu. This path seems to take every moment of a lifetime and along the way never runs out of mysterious and sometimes astonishing… Thank you.

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