When the nun Chiyono studied Zen she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.
At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free.
In this way I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break.
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!
This reminds me of my own conversion to Buddhism. Years of study (in a laid-back bedside table manner) led up to one explosive moment when the bottom of my pail broke and all the water ran out. That explosive part of anyone’s conversion can be painful and certainly stressful but needs to occur. The reasons will differ from person to person but in the same way an addict needs to hit rock-bottom to see the top, I needed to see my world of attachment and suffering in order to adapt.
In Rinzai Zen this moment can be described as,
A revolutionary experience and insight capable of shattering all categories of thought and sweeping away all academic exercises and turning the world upside down…like a time bomb ticking in the depths of consciousness. – Once Born, Twice Born Zen
This experience can not be realized until the tension, frustration, doubt and confusion in one’s life hits a boiling point, a point where the vessel can no longer contain it.
Enjoyment of one’s intrinsic Buddha-Nature…allowing this Buddha-Mind to well up and flow through all areas of one’s consciousness and life. One does not begin by building up a strong sense of false and illusory ways of thinking and being, but a positive sense of fundamental well-being. – Once Born, Twice Born Zen
Most converts fall along the spectrum of these two extremes. Maybe not necessarily in Zen practice, but as a gradual move to Buddhism through a nurturing of the Buddha-mind or a drastic switch due to the bottom falling out.
I look at this moment as a convert’s initial piece of enlightenment–a fleeting, brief glimpse of kensho as the bottom of our bucket falls out and everything rushes out leaving a husk of the former vessel. Momentarily, unable to hold anything or be filled up again. It doesn’t last a long time but whether gradual or sudden we do feel a sense of the absolute at that moment of conversion, at least I did.
Mine was both sudden and gradual. A gradual and slight nurturing of the Buddha-nature (as well as the increases in tension, confusion, frustration and pain) enveloped in all of that samsaric nonsense. Hidden from view but growing slowly. At that moment of sudden emptying, the Buddha-nature stands very clear and apparent. But only for a moment; a convert’s brief picture of enlightenment, the crack-cocaine of Buddhism.