The contemplative in binary times

In binary times, when everyone is either this or that – and very determinedly so – only one thing is necessary, only one thing required of the contemplative.

It is necessary, just once a day, to give up everything we know.

We may do it twice a day, declare our assumed knowledge to be nothing, a worthless string of beads.

This practice opens such doors.

Once we give up everything we imagine know, our progress towards truth becomes a great deal freer and life jollier, more hopeful.

Here’s a story. Nan-in receives a university professor who has come to enquire about Zen. Nan-in serves tea.

He fills his cup as a good host might. But he then carries on pouring until the cup is spilling over.

The university professor watches until he can contain himself no longer.

‘It’s over-full!’ he says. ‘No more will go in!’

‘Like this cup,’ replies Nan-in, ‘you are full of speculations and opinions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’

Meister Eckhart said something similar: ‘To the one who knows nothing, all shall be revealed.’

These words are mad in binary times when each has an opinion dipped in holy water and sanctified by the angels.

But in every other world, they are sane.

There may need to be some unlearning of old things, an unknotting of the mind, some loss of control – for strong opinions can maintain the myth of control.

But such unlearning is wonderful for there are no eggs in last year’s nest.

So once a day, we give up everything we know.

Twice a day, our assumed knowledge is declared to be nothing, a broken string of beads.

And in the fragile space created we see people more clearly; the sky more wonderfully, feel a more hopeful breeze…

and know again what it is to be free.

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