PZI Teacher Archives



Like trees and giraffes, delusions appear to be the opposite of emptiness. But when you really settle into being lost and uncertain, that is an open gate. It comes to be called “here.”

From a dharma talk by John Tarrant on April 17, 2018

Student: What is meditation?
Zhaozhou: It’s not meditation.
Student: It’s not? Why not?
Zhaozhou: It’s alive, it’s alive.

—Zen Koan

Sometimes I prefer not to untangle things.

—Tony Hoagland


In the beginning there was emptiness and an intoxicating silence unaware of its own extent. But even silence is a step, it repeats itself. Eventually, all sorts of things emerged: Tasmanian devils, giraffes, Neanderthal cave paintings in Spain, refugees climbing barbed wire fences, trees, the sound of dishes, women reading with cats on their laps while rain runs down the windows. But that original emptiness and silence was still inside the things, inside the trees that talked with each other through their roots, inside the salt ocean in human veins, inside the photons that bounced off all the objects.

The creatures and beings began to wonder who they were. They wondered because they noticed that explanations and maps never contained what they referred to. Instructions didn’t lead you to the place you set out for.

Nothing was all one color, there was a striped quality to events. People pushed each other aside and killed each other, but soldiers also wept alongside their enemies and exchanged family photos with prisoners; afterwards they had terrible dreams. The actions like war, that were meant to make things clear, only led to confusion and being lost. All beings suffered and developed methods to transform sorrow. Ants and oak trees became altruistic, elephants and crows learned to perform funerals.

People persisted in seeking more clarity. They were sure that clarity was possible if they acquired more skill and more data. But they also wondered, though, if they suffered from some fundamental error. They seemed to be a dream that someone was dreaming. Perhaps, they thought, they were themselves like maps; perhaps they were a set of instructions referring to a deeper and more real existence.

Sometimes people preferred not to untangle things. They worked in gardens, watched clouds, read poetry, drank tea with friends, got tattoos, looked at their phones, and otherwise wasted their time which meant that they had more time.

They discovered that being lost and uncertain wasn’t really a problem. When you were uncertain, they found, the guards in the mind were distracted and things you didn’t know about could sneak by them.

Like trees and giraffes, delusions appeared to be the opposite of emptiness. But when you really settled into being lost and uncertain, that was an open gate. It came to be called here.

You couldn’t try to get lost or arrive here, the effort involved took you in the wrong direction. Even searching was fine though, as long as you didn’t try to be clear about where you were going.

Eventually getting lost or being here, both came to be called meditation. Meditation doesn’t have anything to do with valuable qualities or experiences we can acquire or curate. In meditation we don’t have to bother with any of that; we just get lost. We step through the gate into silence and emptiness. We feel space spread out around us. In the simplest events, like breathing or looking into a stranger’s eyes, the original giddiness is visible.

For this reason meditation is something that you can’t do wrong. This is rare in life. Wrong implies time, status and fear. In the beginning there was none of that.

So that’s meditation. Technique turns you away from it.

Some old masters just asked, “Who?”

“Who is hearing the rain?”
“Who is wondering who she is?”
“Who is meditating?”

When you ask, “Who am I?” without impatience for an answer, the question spreads out. Space and not knowing appear and all is well. There is no need to add or subtract. Another time Zhaozhou said, “I don’t identify with clarity. Can you live like this?”

It’s raining tonight in Northern California. Raining happy, round splashes in the harbor, raining on the heads of the seals, on the first apple blossoms, on the old and the young sheep in the field, on the yellow mustard between the vine rows, on the green miner’s lettuce bursting out of the charred earth.

In the darkness, the apricot and the cherry tree are approximate shapes and the leaves glisten faintly from the lights in the house. Time before the beginning of time is here and I never tire of it.

Do you hear how no one is listening and no one is wet? The sound of rain comes out of the endless beginning.