Turtles all the Way Down

There is a lovely story that floats around many Zen communities which humorously points out our never-ending human efforts to contain or pin down the unknowable nature of this life that we are.

An elderly woman attends a meeting of esteemed philosophers concerned with the nature of the universe and tells them that the world rests on the back of a turtle. The chairman asks her to explain what this turtle stands on; she snaps back that it stands on the back of yet another turtle. “And what does the turtle stand on?” demands the chairman. The elderly woman shakes her finger and replies, “You can’t fool me sonny, it’s turtles all the way down!”

“… turtles all the way down.”

We are utterly without foundation.

Each one of us is an infinite and unique pattern of ungraspable movement, and so for each one of us our practice-exploration is always deeply personal. Through our sincere practice-effort we see that it is in the midst of our uniqueness that we find our vast nature. And, as this vast nature we learn to trust our uniqueness.

So let us learn to stop and rest in our lives as they are. In resting we come to see that we are always embraced by this light that is each and ever moment of our lives. In touching this breath, this palpitation of skin on skin, this beating heart, we see the depth that is present is each bottomless moment. We are constantly falling. Falling into being which is itself constantly falling.  We learn to rest in this falling and to see that falling is resting. This is our home. This is what we all share for this is what we are.

We throw the word ‘I’ around as if it is something solid. ‘I’ will wake up. ‘I’ will save. ‘I’ will attain. But what is this ‘I’? This ‘I’ and this ‘other’. ‘Me’ and ‘mine’. The Buddha is known as the Great Liberator, liberating us from the dream of separation, of grasper and grasped, of the delusion of the solid I. Upon his awakening he is reputed to have said,

I have gone through many rounds of birth and death, looking in vain for the builder of this body. Heavy indeed is birth and death again and again! But now I have seen you, house-builder, you shall not build this house again. Its beams are broken, its dome is shattered: self-will is extinguished; nirvana is attained.”

Nirvana is attained! Awakening from the self centered dream within which we all whirl through countless lives, nen after nen, thought moment after thought moment. Who is it that attains this nirvana. Even here does the subtle sense of ego creep in, solidifying and claiming ownership of our attainment, our seeing. Now ‘I’ understand. Now ‘I’ have it. ‘I’ am one who sees. But truly, who is it that sees? Who is this ‘I’ that is liberated? What is liberated?

Zen teacher Dongshan awakened after seeing his reflection in a stream. Vividly expressing his awakening to this seeing, he said;

“Just don’t seek from others or you will be far estranged from self.
I now go on alone; everywhere I meet it.
It now is me: I now am not it.
One must understand in this way to merge with suchness.” Dongshan

 “I now go on alone, everywhere I meet it.” In our zazen and in our lives and in all our encounters this is the way it is. Always we are alone and solitary yet containing and being contained by all beings in each falling breath, each falling step, each falling smile. Koan after koan points us to this truth. Everything in this universe is effortlessly giving of itself in order that this present self may come into being. So enter into your life fully. Be intimate with each sound, each sensation, each meeting place. Your life manifests nowhere other than here.

Rest. Breathe. See.

This Limitless Life, unfathomable in its manifestation, is always deeply personal.