What Today Brings
“Look within… the secret is inside you.” – Huineng
Buddhist Monk Huineng, the Sixth and last Patriarch of Chan Buddhism was born in 638 A.D. and one of the foremost teachers on enlightenment. He knew way back when that the transient things we expend our energy on are not where true knowledge can be found. Born in Xinzhou (present day in Xingxing county) to poor parents, Huineng was never afforded the opportunity for education and was illiterate his entire life. Still, teaching the mastering of an imperturbable mind cemented his place in history.
What is enlightenment? What is this secret Huineng thought could only to be found by looking within? He said it came from having a ‘pure unattached mind.’ It came from the realization that we are not everything we see, hear and think. We are not the traffic, we are not our houses, our culture or our jobs. We see the traffic, the culture, the houses and jobs but we need not be attached. For centuries people have been practicing this type of meditation so as not to be a slave to everything that pops into our over active minds. As John Lennon sang, “Jai guru deva om… nothing’s gonna change my world.”
It is a loud world with as many personalities as there are people and enough stimuli to actively encourage any bright or dark impulse we may have. Unless you live in a monastery, on a mountaintop, in a cave or deep in the woods, it is difficult to find silence. The point is that the silence is always there. The trick to ‘enlightenment’ may be in the absence of acknowledging the validity of this circus we see before our eyes. Even though it is a very compelling spectacle.
Yesterday, I saw a wolf, a scary clown, a teenage girl in a bloodstained nightdress carrying a mallet, a Gremlin, two ghost busters and a petrifying nun in six-inch-heels with a painted white face. Halloween came early at the Lexington Convention Center this weekend for the 10th annual Scare Fest. My friend Tuesday Knight was in town to sign autographs and take pictures along with Robert England and several other stars of the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. I sat under a banner with the giant face of my longtime friend while cult movie fans lined up to have her sign a photo, a poster or in some cases, a sword finger on a plastic Freddy Kruger hand. It was a subculture which I had no idea existed but thoroughly enjoyed.
How are we to ignore such entertaining shenanigans with an unattached mind? Ice cold chills shot down my spine and I jumped out of my skin when I walked by that creepy nun and he whispered, “I would have come to you.” When humanity has strange and fascinating hobbies like putting on six inch heels and a nun’s habit to stand silent and menacing for five hours amongst strangers, it seems more appropriate to jump in and play, remain ridiculously unenlightened. Maybe Heineng did not teach all or nothing, maybe he taught all and everything. We will never know exactly. Mummified and kept in the Nanhua Temple in Shaoguan, his secrets remain wrapped up with him.
The truth is that life is a smorgasbord. We can experience something eye catching every day. I believe what Huineng meant was that whether it be meeting a new person, taking up a new hobby, or discovering a new leaf on our favorite tree, we should come at each and every thing with fresh eyes, void of judgement. That supreme enlightened state that he taught was available to all of us may seem impossible to achieve but to me, it sounds well worth the effort. How peaceful we would all be if we could witness a child’s birthday party, a convention center of monsters, a terror attack in Marseille or a catastrophically flooded Puerto Rico with the same acceptance that it just is. That it is what it is… because it is.
-Erin Chandler holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, a Masters in Theatre from UK and is a Professor of English at BCTC and teaches playwriting at the Carnegie Center.