We cannot see our reflection in running water, but only in still water.
– Chuang Tzu (4th Cent. BCE Taoist)
The very heart of Taoism and Buddhism, the “Awakening” referenced in Buddhism, is the discovery of an inner dimension of quiet and stillness of awareness that opens into the underlying quiet and stillness of the world. It is the discovery of the essence of who we are as the silence that lies beneath the running surface chatter of the mind, awakening us into the underlying perfect quiet of the world.
These ancient Asian teachings lead us to the discovery of our natural and original Beingness, not clouded by the conditioning of societal and interpersonal bias trained into us from infancy, that acts like a distorted lens shaping our surface reality into the contours and limitations of that conditioning. A modern American sees the world in a uniquely modern American manner. An ancient Chinese saw the world in a uniquely ancient Chinese manner. The basic human is the same. It is their conditioning that is different, creating an illusory world of thought and concepts so that they see and experience themselves and the world quite differently.
But, from a place of inner quiet, beneath the conditioning, we can find the basic human, or what Zen refers to as “original mind,” the “Buddha mind.” Not actually unique to Asia, but universal to the mystical experience, Christian mystics also referred to this dimension as the “Christ Within.” This mind is the unclouded consciousness that is in union with life, and like any creature in Nature, is bright, alert, relaxed and, of course, natural, as well as spiritual.
To discover the natural unconflicted consciousness that is the heart of who we are is the great “liberation” of Taoism and Buddhism, freeing us from identity found in the troubled and turbulent mind of our social and personal conditioning. This mind is quiet and still, as Nature is quiet and still. Even as a waterfall roars or thunder rumbles, it is within a larger quiet and stillness that is palpable. So too, the natural human mind is active, but within a deeper quiet and stillness. The conditioning of modern humans is to not recognize this dimension of quiet and stillness, but rather, to experience their sense of self in the activity of the mind, giving it a reality and identification as self that is not true. And because it is a false self, it is filled with insecurity, conflict and anxieties.
To live in a mental world of commotion and noise creates the experience of a world of commotion and noise. In a sense, this is the meaning of Karma. We create the world as we experience (imagine) it in our minds to be, and attend to and create more noise in the world reflective of the noise in our minds, believing this noise to be the world as it is. The future then is propelled out of this noise-filled past, and the present moment is just a blur of transit in the creation of more noise.
We also act out the noise with all its conflicting and competing elements. Our lives become a tumble of thought and emotion and activity. We are doing, doing, doing all the time, physically and mentally. We become so much activity that we lose any sense of peace and calm, of presence and perspective. We live in the world of modern America, that is hurry, hurry, flurry, flurry, filled with, as Shakespeare noted even four hundred years ago, “full of sound and fury.” And most of the time, as Shakespeare also noted, “signifying nothing.” Except that it does signify something; it signifies our tumultuous and conflicted world that we mistake for the way things are and must be.
No. There is peace and quiet. Peace and quiet are the essence of Nature, and so too, at the level of our own nature, there is peace and quiet. But peace and quiet have become foreign concepts to most of us, even, unnerving, literally, disquieting. “Where’s the action?!” could be noted as the slogan for modern American life. Even walking through the beauty of Nature, it is typical that most people keep on talking and carrying their unnatural lives with them into the heart of Nature. It is as if they fear they will disappear if they allow and absorb the quiet of the natural world, and in a manner of speaking, so they would disappear. They would cease to be that artificial egoic construct of themselves they carry in their minds that feels compelled to reconstruct every moment filled with its hungry cravings for significance and its deep-seated anxieties, even in the heart of peaceful, quiet Nature.
What we neglect to realize is that in peace and quiet there is no anxiety, there is no craving, there is no conflict. In peace and quiet there is the deep contact with life that allows us to savor and skillfully engage the moments in which life occurs, not the artificial running from past to future that mark our typical experience. In peace and quiet there is our own deepest nature – calm, authentic and deeply present. There is quiet that is referenced in the Bible as the “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Look within to discover the quiet stillness and space beneath the noise. Find the inner quiet that guides you to the truth and peace of who you are at your natural core. From there you can engage the hurry, hurry, flurry, flurry of modern life, but not be the hurry and the flurry. Rather you can be the peace in the midst of the hurry and the flurry. This is the purpose and the direction pointed to in the awakening of the Buddhist Way, as well as the heart of every spiritual teaching.
“And so, Gotama (The Buddha) wandered into the town to obtain alms, and the two Samanas recognized him only by his complete peacefulness of demeanor, by the stillness of his form, in which there was no seeking, no will, no counterfeit, no effort – only light and peace.” – from Siddhartha by Herman Hesse