(it’s nice sometimes not to have to do a self-exam?)
According to the monk who has stayed in the same place for forty years, there is a nun who has also stayed in the same place for forty years, and like the monk, for forty years she has been examining the ways her mind forms attachments to its ideas and images, which she calls her self. The monk says that from where he has stayed for the past forty years, he can see the small hut where the nun has stayed, and the nun, when she comes out of her hut and looks a bit farther up the mountain, can see the monk’s hut. So it seems that one of the things I have been examining, says the monk, is my attachment to seeing the nun’s hut, and to seeing the nun come out and look up. I know that one day the nun will not come out of her hut, and soon after that day, the wind will have blown her hut to rubble, and rain will have washed the rubble down the mountain. The monk says that when he finds himself looking forward to seeing the nun’s hut and the nun, he thinks about the hut being reduced one day to rubble, and the rubble being pulled slowly and inevitably down to the base of the mountain, where the monk’s hut will also one day collect. And, the monk says, I have little doubt that the nun is similarly examining her mind’s attachments to seeing my hut, for she will also know, being as devoted as she is to careful and honest examination of all her mind’s fabrications, that my hut is bound in time to be reduced to rubble, just as hers is.
But it happened once, says the monk, that several days passed without the nun emerging from her hut, and my mind, being less disciplined than it is now, began spinning story after story about how the nun had died, or was lying gravely ill inside her hut. Having made a hut in his mind for the nun, a hut that was just as real to the monk as the nun’s actual hut from which she had not emerged for several days, the monk could not tolerate a discrepancy between the nun’s hut in his mind and the nun’s actual hut, so he gathered a small bag of supplies for a day away from his hut and hastily began walking down the rocky path toward the nun’s actual hut, the nun’s hut in his mind having no path along which the monk might walk to access it.
When I came to the nun’s hut, the monk says, I stood a distance from her doorway so that I might consider whether I really should enter it. Seeing that nothing would block my way, that the doorway was not barred, and no curtain obscured the hut’s interior from my gaze, I decided that it was the same to gaze as it was to enter, so I began walking toward the doorway of her hut.
While he was paused in the doorway to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark interior, he tried to detect an odor of the nun, perhaps what she had recently eaten, or what she had rubbed on her skin to protect it from the sun. But he could not smell anything except the hut—an odor of dust and mountain.
When my eyes had adjusted and I could see the far wall of the nun’s hut, which really wasn’t so far from where I stood as the hut was quite small, says the monk, I entered and saw that the hut was empty. There was no sign of the nun or any sign that she had recently been there. There were no clothes, there were no strands of hair. No bits of food, no books containing words of insight. There was nothing except bare walls and bare floor, so I had to conclude that the nun had not been there for a very long time.
Nevertheless, says the monk, the next morning I saw the nun emerge from her hut carrying her bucket, and I watched her set off down the path toward the stream where she fills her bucket with water. A bit later I saw her coming back along the path carrying her bucket, which was now full of water, and which she carried into her hut. And that evening I saw her emerge with the same bucket and set off again down the path toward water. And every morning and evening since then, I have watched the nun emerge from her hut carrying her bucket. And so it seems I have formed quite a powerful attachment to the nun and her comings and goings, and though I sit all day and most of each night in silence so that I can accurately perceive the workings of my mind, all of the images and ideas it clings to as if these were as real as the mountain on which I sit, something among them has so far eluded me, and I can no longer see any difference between the nun’s hut in my mind and the nun’s actual hut, which I suspect by now is rubble at the base of the mountain.
(first published in Mother’s News, April 2012)