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Ocean Views

April 1, 2012

by Stephen Damon

I just got back from a long walk with my dog up to the one of the highest points in the San Francisco Sunset neighborhood. When we reached the top of the last hill I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands to the north and the white-capped waves of the ocean to the west. There was not a cloud in the perfectly blue sky and it was cool and very windy.

Then, as if in a gust of wind, everything began to change, or I should say that I changed.  I experienced what I was looking at in a new way. I felt as if I were not looking out at the ocean below me but rather it seemed as though I were stepping back and looking at was inside me—the ocean!  It all seemed to be coming from inside of me, or maybe it is more accurate to say that I seemed to include everything, everywhere, inside of me.  There was no perspective of distance— there was no perspective at all.  In the silence of the early morning a chant rose from somewhere deep inside of me:

All Buddhas, ten directions, three times.

All beings, Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas.

Wisdom beyond wisdom, Maha Prajna Paramita.

I know these words well as they are what we chant after the Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra in daily Zen services. I felt the chant in the same way as I was feeling the extraordinary scenery around me; or maybe I should say that the scenery and the words of the chant were intimately connected, even indistinguishable. There were colors and shapes and sounds but I was not distinguishing them as qualities and things. This was life appearing all around me, the way it always does, but this time I wasn’t naming what I was experiencing—nothing was coming automatically.  There were no Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, no waves, no hills, and no bridge—there was no me. There was just raw experience of life—of things as they are. Yes, I could still see colors and shapes and feel the cold wind, but something was different. Everything was different.

On my way down the hills toward my house my mind began to interpret my experience using ideas I’ve studied for many years: the interconnectedness of all things, the non-substantiality of myself and so on. But I saw that these ideas, as helpful as they are, were taking me away from what I had just experienced. They were in fact taking me away from myself. Seeing this, I let everything go and closed my eyes and tried to return to myself—but something had already changed. I had a sense that “something was now missing” in myself. I think that I will try to stay with this feeling and see where it takes me.



From → Zen Buddhism

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