Infinity is always around us.
The mind presents us with a wide spectrum of possibilities where we can move in and out of thoughts and presence, the comforting walls of what we choose to believe and the freedom of the unknown.
On one level, there is the “Infinite Outer”—you know, the one that provides us with life, death, oxygen, comets, ideas, galaxies, tragedies, and comedies, and then there is this vastly complex sponge in our skull that takes it all in and attempts to conceive of something orderly and neat. In essence, the reaction of our sponges to the infinite unknown creates our individual human reality and this spreads into our cultural reality—where women are not allowed to drive in one area or people cannot marry one another because of a great deity in the sky.
When something is deemed wrong, hurtful, or against our cherished beliefs, the world closes in and our relationship with life narrows down.
This is limitation, and yet, all the while infinity is always around us, eating stars and placing grasshoppers on our new black shoes in the grass. Accepting the prevalence of this infinite scope in our lives might add a dimension of depth to our experience—the compassionate abyss of which could be capable of swallowing our fears, dreams, demons, desires, neuroses, beliefs, and then what we allow to take root and confine our attention to the wisps of opinions streaming through the mind.
Without this scope of infinity, or at least a greater sense of vastness in our daily interactions, the river of thoughts in the mind can come to define our experience.
In Buddhism, our thoughts and cherished beliefs act as a kind of fog that blocks out the clear, pristine skies of ultimate reality. Fundamentally, to be lost in this fog is to be lost in suffering—within a closed-in, limited existence—and to be lost in suffering is to inhabit a subtle form of hell—not the one espoused in Western culture; rather, one that is mind-made and causes people to hurl insults at one another. The fact that we choose to inhabit the smallness of the mind and forgo the ever-present miraculous gifts of the now isn’t bad or punishable by stoning, it is just self-imposed ignorance.
Here is what an 18th century Japanese Zen Master had to say about inhabiting smallness:
A soldier came to Master Hakuin and asked, “Is there really a paradise and a hell?
Hakuin asked the soldier who he was and then exclaimed, “So you think you are a soldier! Your face looks like that of a beggar! Your sword couldn’t even cut off my head you dunce!”
As the enraged soldier drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here, open the gates of hell!”
The Master’s teaching places vastness against smallness, reaction against the abyss of compassion within the open mind. Hakuin had a way of moving with the inconceivable and embracing the treasures of good and bad until there wasn’t anything left but the life that was here. His mind was a mirror, one thatflected the infinite way. His dialogue with the soldier wasn’t an attempt to have him believe in something new, because that would be replacing one form of smallness with another. Instead, he simply showed the soldier his mind and thus Hakuin gave him aan opportunity to begin unrveling the tightly bound layers of his opinions and beliefs to then step into the present.
What might paradise look like then?
It might not be a story: a celestial realm or a place where a martyr is handed a harem of 60-something teenage virgins after committing a ‘righteous’ deed. Paradise could be here right now, resting quietly like a coat on our shoulders while we grapple with the rushing nature of the mind. Paradise, happiness, being and compassion could be the present moment.
Here is a haiku that describes a man’s sudden drop into paradise. It takes place when a middle aged Zen practitioner named Basho experienced a breakthrough while watching a frog leap and disappear into a pond:
“The old pond,
a frog jumps in—
sound of the water!”
More than a century later Zen Master Sengai Gibon humorously rewrote,
“The old pond
Basho jumped in—
sound of the water!”
That theme of kindness and wildness always seems to appear again and again in Zen lore, jutting forth from the open mind—the one that mirrors the non-discriminatory way of the vastness we move through moment after moment. The same boundless kindness and wildness in the words here is in the depths of each human mind. All we have to do is be.
Paradise could be the limitless.
Ed: Brianna B.
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