Silently a flower blooms,
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
the whole of the flower,
the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower,
The truth of the blossom;
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

Abbot Zenkei Shibayama [1]

Every single object in the universe is alive with Divine livingness. Everything is permeated with the infinite vitality of the One Eternal Source of Being. In the blossoming of a single flower, the whole of the world is blooming. God is being revealed in a thousand different ways right here and now.


We may ask, how is God being revealed in a world so full of suffering and hatred? Where is God amid the spiritual darkness of our materially minded society?

One day Zen Master Tozan Ryokai came to see Zen Master Zenne of Kassan. Tozan greeted his colleague and asked:

“How are things?”

Zen Master Zenne replied:

“Just as they are.” [2]

We always think that our circumstances should be different. We want to alter our world, shift our living conditions, change our family and friends, and transform ourselves. Zen Master Zenne is telling us that there is nothing that really needs to be different. The only thing that needs to change is our angle of vision, for us to see that everything is “just as they are.”

This consciousness of “just as they are”, however, is not simply an acceptance of everything in the state that we find them. As Abbot Shibayama states: “Mere ‘as-it-is-ness’… is nature and not Zen. There must be the fact of self-realization experienced by the individual through his ‘person’ to be Zen.” [3]

This self-realization expresses itself as the capacity to perceive the Divine Unity that lies behind the outer appearance of separateness. Wherever the Zen mind casts its gaze it sees “the glory of eternal life is fully shining here.”

The Talmud (Taanit 21) tells us about a rabbinic figure called Nachum Ish Gamzu. He was given this name because of the unique fashion in which he reacted to all the experiences in his life. No matter what happened to him he would proclaim, “gamzu letovah” – “this too is for the good.”

This reaction resulted from his profound faith that whatever God does He does for our good. If we cannot see the good at the moment, it is because of the narrowness of our vision. If we could see the larger picture, we would realize that all is for the good.

This exclamation of “gamzu letovah”, however, cannot be just an empty platitude, a reflex action or the expression of a positive outlook on life; it must be a living truth. There is a story that is told about a famous German mystic. One morning while he was taking his daily walk, the mystic came across a beggar whom he often encountered along his route. Absentmindedly, he turned to the beggar and called out: “Good morning!” “Is there any morning that is not good?” retorted the beggar in response.

The Hasidic Master Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev teaches that when we interact with the events of our lives, both the good and the bad, from the place of knowing that everything is “of God and from God”, we sweeten the judgments and transform them into compassion and mercy. This, he declares, is the essence of the concept of raising the Divine sparks. Through the faith-filled thought of our pure mind we can uplift everything that we see around us. We can uncover the Divine goodness that is hidden within every situation and event. This, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak says, is the inner meaning of the verse in the Torah (Deut. 8:15), “Who brought forth water for you from the rock of flint.” To bring forth “water from the rock of flint” is to awaken the Divine livingness that lies buried at the heart of this dense physical reality.

 

How do we attain this state of awareness? How do we learn to see beyond the outer appearances of this physical world?

This inner awakening comes as a sudden experience where we break through our normal dualistic manner of perceiving reality and touch upon the unitive consciousness of pure oneness. It can be triggered by the most ordinary events, but it usually arises out of a state of extreme inner tension. This is because it is only after we are pushed to the very limit of our mental conceptions – when we have reached the boundary of the logical analytical mind – that we are able to make the leap beyond the limitations of our physical awareness and merge into the consciousness of the Divine.

Rebbe Levi Yitzhak believes that this idea explains the reason why there is so much trial and tribulation in life. Our physical minds, he points out, are too limited to hold the spiritual emanation which God wishes to bestow upon us. When we have difficulties, however, the suffering that we undergo compels us to try and understand the reason for our predicament. It forces us to ask real questions about our lives. This struggle cracks open our material state of consciousness and expands our hearts and minds. This expanded awareness provides us with the larger vessel that we need to receive the incoming light and inspiration. This new revelation gives us one more glimpse of the infinite consciousness of Unity and Oneness. It takes us one step closer to the experience of the Universal Self.

 

The teachings of both Rebbe Levi Yitzhak and Zen Master Zenkei Shibayama share in common an understanding of the powerful hold that the “small mind” has upon us. They both underline the need to constantly labor at loosening its grasp. One way of releasing the grip of the small mind is to set up the kind of artificial mind crisis that is used in the practice of Zen. A second method is to constantly strive to see the Hand of God working behind the trials and tribulations in our lives.

In truth, these two approaches work hand in hand. The more we develop Zen vision, the more we will see the Divine goodness even in our moments of pain and suffering. And the more we are able to perceive God’s goodness amid our sorrows, the more the underlying reality of Oneness will reveal itself to us.

In each of these approaches, we are attempting to transcend our separative consciousness and touch the unitive awareness of the Self. The awareness of the Self is beyond good or evil, beyond right and wrong, beyond time and space, beyond “I and you”; there is only that which IS. That which IS, we call God. That which IS, is pure love and bliss and peace.

 

If we accept everyone and everything “just as they are”, then we will discover the inner Divine beauty that underlies their outer form. If we know in our hearts that everything is for the good, then we will see God peering out from behind the daily events of our lives. In this heightened awareness, the whole of the world will continually bloom with Eternal Life. In this sublime state of consciousness, we will experience the serenity of Master Zenne of Kassan and the inner contentment of Nachman Ish Gamzu.

 

Copyright © 2009, by Yoel Glick


Acknowledgements    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk
  2. Shibayama
  3. Shibayama