Saturday, August 09, 2008

Thinking Appears, All Things Appear

I was surfing by CNN cable news and caught an interview with a guy who'd been kidnapped in Colombia 6 years ago by FARC (the group that held Ingrid Betancourt), and was recently rescued in the daring operation by government security forces. He was talking about how he made it through his time in captivity.

Along with another hostage, he'd painstakingly carved a chess set, and would spend hours playing chess with each other. What hit me was when he said something like, "As long as we were playing chess, I was no longer a hostage."

I think I know what he means, a little. I was a decent chess player in my youth. In trying to understand my attraction to the game, I concluded that part of the magic was that when my mind was occupied with the chess game, the world disappeared. All my thinking was directed toward the situation on the chess board; it wasn't just the most important thing in the world, it was the only thing in the world. When the game was over, I'd have to shake myself a little and remember that the rest of the world still existed.

It's similar now with my interest in playing poker, and in other games and puzzles. It's not so different from formal meditation practice. When the mind is merged with one thing, there's nothing else.

The first time I met Zen Master Seung Sahn, it was at a New Year's ceremony, for which he'd written a poem. The lines that have stuck in my mind for decades are
Thinking appears, all things appear
Thinking disappears, everything disappears:
Complete, empty stillness.
I've got no reason to believe that the hostage interviewed on CNN had any interest in Buddhism. That's what makes his story so cool: the people with the best understanding of Buddhism are those with no idea about "Buddhism." The hostage may never have formally practiced Zen, but he naturally found a great secret: regardless of the external situation, the key thing is how you're keeping your mind in this very moment.


Doug said...

That's a bit of the beauty of buddhism, I think. Everyone is a buddha, whether they believe in buddhism or not. The nature of things doesn't change based upon what individuals think or believe. Only their perceptions of it are affected, and circumstances alter perceptions.

Keval108 said...

The South American country is COLOMBIA, not Columbia!

Stuart said...

Keval108 said...
The South American country is COLOMBIA, not Columbia!

Thanks for paying attention, Keval, I've made the correction. Somehow I'd lived my whole life without previously learning that Colombia, South America is spelled differently from Columbia, South Carolina.