The Empty Mirror

by Sofia

Janwillem van de Wetering

“Haven’t you ever considered the possibility that time doesn’t exist? That there is nothing but ‘now’? ‘Now’ you can do something. ‘Now’ is eternity. And if you don’t do anything ‘now’ nothing will happen ‘now'” (113).

Interesting to revisit ideas that used to inhabit my head some years ago when it was a different place. Now when confronted with the assertion that life is suffering, I wonder if the most noble thing we can do is live well despite it instead of trying to avoid it. Maybe attachment to family, values, and action is more important than peaceful renunciation, in the spirit of Thoreau’s advice to “be not simply good; be good for something”. Maybe equanimity is overrated, especially when faced with the realization that objectively nothing changes: “I wondered if the women in the cages, and the beggars with their maimed and rotting limbs, would be in a better position if I found enlightenment in Japan. Misery stays. Another clever person is produced, hiding non-transferable wisdom behind a mysterious smile, but hunger and disease and exploitation continue” (31).

“Every human being who reflects, who observes, suspects that life is suffering. Perhaps he doesn’t like talking about it and prefers to push the thought away, but he knows that life is a difficult road, a way of the Cross which will continue till it is ended by death. The thought is suppressed by drinking, by work, by spending time on hobbies, but the thought will always return. It is possible to find temporary relief in books, or in conversations with friends, but books begin to bore after a while and friends don’t really have an answer either” (28). This presupposes that to engage in the struggle that is life is ultimately useless, which I simply don’t agree with anymore. I believe that at a certain level, our individual existence is futile and insignificant to the enormity it is a speck of. But I tend to be more pragmatic and agree with Camus that the struggle itself is what gives meaning to our lives. « La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux. »

The part I most like is when he decides to leave, dejected, after a year and a half, realizing that his attempt at finding whatever it was he was supposed to find has been a failure. “You don’t know it, or you think you don’t know it, but you have been forged in this monastery,” the Zen master tells him. “This whole planet is a forge. By leaving here nothing is broken. Your training continues. The world is a school where the sleeping are woken up. You are now a little awake, so awake that you can never fall asleep again”. Aside from just plain liking this, it makes me think of the idea of a happiness that is not just blissful ignorance but magnanimity despite fully comprehending pain. That’s what I want to cultivate.