by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
A Zen master lay on his death bed, surrounded by his disciples, when a squirrel chattered on the roof. "That's it; there's nothing more!" he exclaimed.
Alan Watts closes his The Way of Zen with this story, and it is one of my favorites. I've mentioned it before, no doubt. I am reminded of it often since I see a squirrel outside my window nearly every morning and frequently hear its chatter in the trees above.
What did that Zen master mean? What did the squirrel mean? Nothing at all. It chattered, as squirrels are wont to do. Yet within that apparently purposeless and meaningless chatter is contained the totality of Reality. Had it been a woodpecker's "tap, tap, tap", the master would have said the same. Or the fall of a limb. Or the tumble of a stone.
This intimacy with the world becomes possible when meaning and distinctions are forgotten. Vastness is that experience of Reality where all things disappear in their individuation, only to re-emerge in their uniqueness. When Zhuangzi suggests we "hide the world in the world" where nothing can be lost, he is suggesting this same realization. Because "all is One", every individual thing contains the Whole. And that is where we find it.
Forgetting the actual physics of the case, we might look upon all things as black holes. Our every attempt to contain them in thought, to understand and explain them, is in vain. They absorb all definition into their opaque thusness. Yet these most opaque of all things, these black holes, are themselves gateways into the Luminous Mystery. Sucked into them we pass into the Whole.
Guo Xiang, the editor of and commentator on the Zhuangzi, suggests we "vanish into things". I think this is what he had in mind. And, as I have previously written, this becomes possible when we vanish into the mystery of ourselves, for we, too, are black holes.
When Zhuangzi's Yan Hui vanished into the "empty room", that innermost place where life itself springs forth as "a kind of emptiness", he realized himself as mystery, and Mystery therein. Thus was he able to say, "'myself' has never begun to exist". To experience the Whole is likewise to lose one's individuated distinctiveness — only to re-emerge in one's glorious uniqueness as an expression of the Whole.
"That's it; there's nothing more!" This was an exclamation of joy. The joy of realizing Vastness in every individual thing.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.