The first touch of the encounter is silence. It isn't just an auditory impression, but a holistic one. The silence fills my head, fills my body, fills my heart. It settles patiently in a corner of my Soul.
My lungs are filled with incense, as it wafts gently about the room, permeating all senses, all thoughts. Candles shimmer in specific locations that balance energy in the room. Being highly sensitive, I can understand the importance of sitting in a certain place so as not to disturb the delicate weave of energy, within the room, within the planet, within the Universe.
Silence becomes alive.
There are not many people in the room, and just a couple wearing the traditional Buddhist garments. There are a few furnishings beyond pillows, carpeting, tapestry, and what appears to be an altar. There is also a gong. A man in Buddhist garb moves toward the gong to make it sing.
Suddenly, the silence spreads its wings and lifts itself to the edges of my mind and heart. The gong sounds, but not just some musical note. No, that gong resonates like a powerful force of energy, collapsing the walls of my intellectuality and trivial pieces of knowledge; collapsing the walls of my emotional resistance and psychological imbalance within the Universal rhythm of All. I feel the note race along my own energy lines, re-aligning, resurrecting, tapping into a vibrant life-force that I do not recognize within myself. My Western-oriented mind tries to analyze this, to no avail.
I am basically trying to bring myself back to myself, when the gong resounds again. It seems as if it is a jackhammer blast-pounding my concrete shell until pieces and chunks begin falling away, dropping to the floor at my feet. It seems determined to free my mind of every connecting bit of Western civilization. Beyond that, it works on emptying my mind of every bit of humanness - and then, every bit of beingness.
I realize later that this is because my very sense of beingness has been defined by my own thoughts and feelings learned from birth. In fact, I realize I don't even know what my essence is, apart from my reading and limited mystical experiences. I think, I know, but I am wrong. Well, not wrong, but limited, misunderstood, misinterpreted. It is the kind of knowing that can only come from experience. There is no Western word, no Western experience, no part of Western cosmology that can explain what I am feeling, where I am spiritually drifting to, how my very molecules are being stripped of electronic barriers and educational graffiti.
Buddhist cosmology incorporates three marks of reality. According to this view, reality manifests these three characteristics as constant change, lack of a permanent identity, and the existence of suffering. Considering that all life is in a constant state of flux, it is easy to see how that connects from my innermost being to the entire Universe of Creation. Buddha taught that the wise person expects change, accepts it, and even savors it. Truly, I am well aware that everything changes- and that there is no growth, no healing, without change. I can feel my own ebb and flow in physical and metaphysical terms. I can see that, in stereotypical Western thought and action, such change is seen in linear parameters. In Buddhist philosophy, change is cyclical, regenerative, and evolving: it is holistic. I meditate on my own inner changing, for as surely as I am immersed within this new experience, I am very much a stranger in a strange land. I begin assimilating textures, tides of energy, ancient glimpses of East Indian lore. My Spirit begins to walk along the Web-lines that link to an old monastery. Perhaps it is a temple. I am out of my own cosmology, and guessing as best I can.
The gong resounds and calls me once again. It scatters all my wonderful intellectual analyzing into which I constantly fall without any effort at all. I catch myself frequently thinking, and thought becomes intrusive as I try to release to a state of non-identity. This is the second manifestation of reality. It encompasses the understanding of change, and applies that concept to the Self. I am in constant flux, therefore I am never the same, therefore no singular label or name can make me something which I am not, i.e., permanent. My translation of this, for myself, holds out for the uniqueness of the sum essence of who I am. The ocean is forever changing, but it always is a perfect ocean. So am I. What happens beyond my own belief and that acceptance, is that I can allow myself to let go of the Western constraints of other forms of identification. I can release all material, physical tags that I hang on myself like some suitcase I'm taking to Europe. I can release the clothes, the books, the food, and the cross I wear. I can release my thoughts, my feelings, my anxieties, my worries, my frustrations, my screwed-up self-esteem...all of it, gone. I can release my eyes, ears, blood, skin... so then, what am I? Is it important? Can I envision a whole world of spiritual beings without some type of Western perception interfering? I think that unlikely, but I work at it. Still, for me, it is truth to see each Spirit as unique, though intricately woven within a Universal tapestry. We are One. That is as much as I can step into Buddha's cosmology. I have negotiated for an experience that I can grasp and find meaningful. And so it is.
The gong sounds again, as if from some Nirvana, affirming that Buddha has accepted my negotiation and has called for me to move on. Now the third characteristic, suffering, manifests. I'm inclined not to have to experience this from choice, but perhaps have. In the translation of the Sanskrit word, it can also mean "dissatisfaction" or "dis-ease". It reminds me of a story of a young man who was most distresssed with the misfortunes of his life. A wise old man set a stone in his palm that was engraved with the words: "This too shall pass." The young man found hope in that and, sure enough, things changed and life became very wonderful, and full of fortune and fame. One day, the young man happened to turn the stone over, and on the bottom was enscribed: "This too shall pass." What Buddha's intention in calling suffering an inescapable truth of reality was to say that no one can escape it, but each person can decide how to respond to it. In further readings, all of this can be understood in greater depth, including how following the Noble Eightfold Path can release one from suffering.
Buddha says the highest virtue is wisdom. For as long as I can remember, that is the only truth I have sought. Whether or not I have used it well remains to be seen. Having wisdom without knowledge has gotten me into trouble. Buddha espouses the teaching of harming none -- similar statements can be found in all major religions, spiritual beliefs, and pagan and aboriginal premises. He also believes that each of us is obligated, spiritually, to help others find deliverance from ignorance and error, without elevating ourselves.
As the gong sings out for the last time, I rise from my cushion and go rub the statue's belly for good luck. It may only be superstition, but I am not alone in doing so. I bow to the room and leave, gathering my sneakers up along the way.
The silence is alive, and the gong is its voice. Inside me, the room that holds all this leaves an echoing imprint, a vibrant pulse, a mystical gateway. I can always return. I am always there. We are One.