Nothing further to seek

June 7, 2005

Zen master Rinzai said: ‘Better it is to have nothing further to seek.’ In the 23 years since I read this, knowing he was right, I have gradually been reducing my life and activity to almost nothing. At first I acted on desires and lusts, until I exhausted them and became bored of it. Each new disappointment, or something not turning out quite as I had hoped or envisaged, made it a little easier not to pursue such a desire again. It surprised me, though, how much convincing I took. I still had something to seek, something to try out, something to make absolutely sure wasn’t the way.

I never thought it would take so long to see through things, because years ago I thought I already saw through things. But I obviously didn’t, not completely, or my actions would have been different.

To tell the truth, where I am now is a place I never really thought I would reach, not solidly, not as if I knew it and could rely on it. I think I thought I would always be shoring up a theory of life as a way of living, rather than living without any of that mental artificiality.

It was a matter not so much of bringing myself to an inner stillness in limited periods of meditation, but rather of bringing my whole life to a standstill, where the only thing that was happening was that the nights replaced the days and the birds sang and stopped and the wind blew and stopped and the world warmed up and cooled down. I didn’t pursue anything. Nothing at all. I didn’t go to work, I didn’t have a job, except for a few brief periods. Most of my life I have had only enough money to last a week, and came to regard it as what must be meant by ‘living on thin air’. I didn’t have a lover or go looking for one. Sometimes one appeared, bringing new challenges, new joys, new sorrows. I shouldn’t imagine I have exhausted what relationship has to offer, but whether I am in one or not is no longer of great concern.

I sat and thought. I sat and looked at the world. The extent to which I involved myself in it was that I would sow a few seeds and grow a few plants. I would cook. I wrote things down. I saw few people. Though I have friends, and enjoy seeing them, I couldn’t help noticing a quiet joy welling up in me at the prospect of an open horizon, with no meetings planned ahead, just glorious solitude, with little more on my agenda than to sit in the sun and read. I watched the birds. I played with the cats that strolled through my garden, trailing a long piece of grass, as happy as that made me as a child.

Sometimes, looking out my window to the street, watching other people’s lives walk by, I grew lonely, sometimes I despaired, sometimes I felt in a rut, but all the same I sat and let myself sit out these feelings, and then I would notice more the new leaves coming on the trees and take pleasure in great thunderstorms at night, letting go of what had been bothering me. The world is utterly transient, but the mountain changes only very slowly through erosion, and this is the form of transiency to develop within, the power to endure. Then the currents of people and events are like fast moving clouds, hardly touching you.

I catalogued all manner of illusion that beset my mind, until it was hard to find an illusion I did not recognise as such in its incipient stages. After a very long time, illusion seemed to tire of me and went away for longer and longer periods. I thought little of the past or the future, life was right now, and in time I stopped wondering what else I might be doing that would be better, there was a joy in me about the simplest of things. Gradually, in the background, almost as a kind of long-term hobby, a reverse collector, I reduced my possessions, discarding something every day.

And then one day, although the sense had been there for some time, and there a little bit in odd moments even years ago, I realised I had nothing further to seek. And, similar to getting one’s wish when one no longer wants it, this meant I could do anything now.