An Experience of Oneness
by Eternity Joraku Wauls
When I first went to The Hazy Moon Zen Center for a few days in July 2010, I was seeking a deeper experience of stillness. I had participated in silent retreats before, but always left them feeling like something was missing and that there had to be more to the experience. I had no idea what I was stepping into when I walked through the front door of the Hazy Moon, a very welcoming and gracious community. Prior to this, I had never heard many of the terms used in Zen: emptiness, impermanence, Buddha-nature and others.
For me, it was and is a privilege to practice, so much so that I returned to the Hazy Moon in December 2010 and stayed for five weeks. During this time I realized that I had found my community. In terms of months and years of practice, I am definitely a neophyte trying to become more aware of my Buddha-nature.
It takes a lot of work and effort to sit on the cushion. Something that seems so simple is a very intricate and active process of settling and focusing the mind, body and breath into one harmonious unit. It doesn’t happen overnight and can take months, years, a lifetime. I can still hear Nyogen Roshi’s voice as he emphasized at different times and in various contexts, “Here, now! Be in this moment. This moment is rich—don’t let it pass you by.”
My spiritual foundation from childhood is rooted in the Christian tradition. I don’t try to abandon, ignore or deny this fact. Rather, I find that it enhances my Buddha-nature and enables me to experience the oneness of Buddha-mind and the mind of Christ. For some, this may sound strange, but for me, they are one and the same.
This summer I was on a camping adventure in the states of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. During this adventure I had some very subtle experiences of oneness, impermanence and emptiness as I currently understand and live them. Of course, I cannot adequately express these experiences or the concepts in words because any attempt to do so is vanity.
Nevertheless I try. During my two-month adventure I camped at six different campsites in different locations and I will attempt to briefly describe a few of my experiences here.
In a forest area in New Mexico, I came upon an overlook that provided some interesting information and inspired deep inner awareness. When I got out of my car and approached the overlook, I became aware of a sound emanating from deep within me: O-o-o-o-h! It was the sound of surprise and awe blending together. The information provided at the overlook was as follows:
The aspen—an underground family tree—is a natural clone. Not having to depend upon germination by seed, these natural clones have a natural store of nutrients and moisture and develop genetically identical trees. Aspens are one of the largest living organisms, connected in an underground family tree. This sun-loving group of aspen is a result of a large forest fire in the late 1880s. Prior to the fire, this was a forest of pine, spruce and fir. The fir will eventually take over and shade out the sun-loving aspen again.
I saw the leaves of the aspen tree dancing to the breath of the Buddha-Christ and reflecting the sun/son/mind like individual mirrors. Death, then rebirth, then regeneration, then disturbance such as wind, fire or clearing. And then there is rebirth and reclamation—and the cycle goes on.
Will we be wise enough to recognize the stage of change we are in? Each stage is orderly and essential. Change is inevitable, and as humans our perception or misperception prepares or misleads us to accept or resist the constant that is in change. What choice will we make? Truly, all of it is eternal, impermanent, empty and ONE.
While camping near Flagstaff, Arizona, I visited the Sunset Crater Volcano. As I walked along the Lava Flow Trail, I experienced deep and unexpected emotions. For some reason, being at this volcanic location brought forth tears and a sense of not wanting to leave. I had an awareness of the illusion of what we humans call “contradiction,” or maybe the word is “paradox.” At one point in time this entire area would have been labeled as dangerous, destructive, disastrous and dead. Yet all I could see was magnificent formations of lava that were breathtaking in their black beauty. It reminded me of black coal, except this was a dull color and not shiny.
The black lava hills and mountains were awe-inspiring. The uprooted and overturned trees revealed intricately beautiful root systems that reflect oneness, networks, systems and sustainability. Occasionally there would be a flower or two springing up from the lava floor. Truly, our earth with all of its grand fluidity does not waste anything (and we think we invented recycling). How wonderful Nature/God/Buddha-mind is—the true architect, artist, creator and poet.
Somewhere in the midst of this experience I was reminded of a poem I had written and subsequently forgotten over 25 years ago. It addresses the playful, child-like nature in each of us:
If I could be what I wanted to be—
I’d be a tree!
What would you be?
Because to me, a tree is
Perhaps I was a tree in lives gone by.
Perhaps I’ll be a tree in lives yet to come.
Who knows? I don’t.
But I do know that I want to be a tree.
What Will You Be???
At other times and in various locations: the Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks, Utah. I remember walking in a consciousness of deep abiding peace and stillness. Although there were people all around me talking, laughing, taking pictures and loving each other, I was very conscious of a peaceful quietness within and without. There is no way to describe this awareness with words. To others, I appeared to be alone, but I was NEVER alone.
I met some wonderful and loving people during this camping adventure. At some of the campsites and locations I visited, the people I met seemed surprised and alarmed that I was doing all this “alone and by myself.” I appreciated their concern but found their alarm and fear somewhat surprising. I prayed for an appropriate response to give my neighbors. I found myself repeating many times: “I am not alone, that is only an appearance and, in fact, it is an illusion. The ONE who created all this majestic beauty is always with me.”
I could tell some of the people grasped the depth of what I was conveying, and some did not. Nevertheless, I appreciated the expressions of concern for my safety, the prayers and the blessings for a successful and joyful journey—which I did have! Wherever I am, God is. Wherever I am, Buddha-mind is. There is no such thing as separation.
One unexpected blessing involved the opportunity to be bodhicitta for a person whose heart was heavily burdened with marital problems. Another blessing appeared when a church youth group arrived at a campsite. One young man initiated a conversation with me. He had already decided that his life career would be as a minister. I was able to share some of my life experiences and raise some thought-provoking questions for him to consider. Later that evening, the group invited me to come to their evening prayer session and participate. It was a rich experience.
ONENESS – ONENESS – ONENESS