June 24th, 2013

In Zen Buddhism there is the concept of the Dharma Gate: something that has the potential to awaken us to a deeper truth about our life.

This morning I passed through such a gate while reading near the end of Jan Chozen Bay’s Mindful Eating. I’ve read several books on the subject in recent years including Susan Albers’s Eating Mindfully and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Savor to name just two. Both are good works, but I found myself shifting over to blah-blah-blah mode in larges swaths of pages because I wasn’t learning anything new.

I had such moments in Bay’s book as well, but near the end, on page 146 (of 155 pages) I found a gate when I read:

The suffering that the Buddha talked about [in the First Noble Truth: to live as a human being is to experience suffering], however, is an experience that is often much more subtle than outright pain. it is a feeling of dissatisfaction, a persistent feeling that things are not as they should be. It is an unpleasant or irritating feeling, one that impels us to move, to do something, to distract ourselves, to eat something, to drink something, to binge, to vomit, to make the feeling of dis-ease go away.

Moving away and creating distractions are not long-term solutions to this feeling that something is not right. It is a feeling based in truth. It must be attended to. Eating, drinking, using drugs or alcohol, courting danger, courting a new lover—these are all over-the-counter remedies for temporary relief of this fundamental dis-ease, the intuition that things are not as they could or even should be. The true source of this dissatisfaction is spiritual, and thus the only true cure for it is also spiritual.

[I must note here that my concept of spiritual does not involve any aspect of metaphysics or the supernatural. For me, spirituality is merely my emotional understanding of my personal reality, of how I see the world. JH]

Now you need to look at the question, Am I willing to be empty? from the spiritual point of view. First of all, you are empty, whether you like it or not, Every atom in your body is composed of emptiness (more than 99 percent) inhabited by tiny bits of whizzing energy (less than 1 percent). In addition to your very real physical emptiness, you are empty in another way. You are empty of independent existence. You could not exist without all other beings also existing. Sometimes we become overwhelmed by the multitudes of others and might wish that everything else in the world would disappear, but if that happened, we too would disappear. Fundamentally we are made up of our interactions with all other beings. We are each like a soap bubble in the middle of a huge mass of soap bubbles. We are made up of nothing but emptiness and our intersections and interactions with all other beings. And so are they.

To be willing to be empty is to align with a fundamental truth of our being.

In teaching meditation, I talk with my students about Monkey Mind, that incessant chattering we create because the mind does not like to be quiet. I have never before made the connection to my physical self, that there is a body analog to Monkey Mind equally averse to quiet or emptiness.


  1. […] Chozen Bays. I’ve only recently come to a realization, or in the Zen parlance, discovered a Dharma Gate, that does not solve my problems, but does show me a new path. I have, at least, glimpsed the […]

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