The Awakening of Gerta Ital
I went to sanzen every evening (Sanzen is a private dialogue between Master and disciple in Zen Buddhism, in which the Master gives instruction to the disciple). The Roshi was also too aware of my impending departure, and he drove me deeper and deeper into the One every day, with ever-increasing intensity.
‘How do you experience the One Hand?’ he asked one evening.
‘The One is both the formless and the formed’, I replied, ‘and the One Hand is everything, I am the One Hand.’
‘There is no “I”!’ he cried, his voice like a metallic crack of thunder. ‘There is only the One!’
The next evening he didn’t ask any question. The moment I sat down his voice cracked out again :
‘There is no Gerta Ital! There is no Roshi! There is only the One!’
After evening zazen I would return to my room at about ten and light the kerosene stove, a luxury which I would not have had if it had not been for the Roshi’s tremendous compassion. Every sanzen during this Great Zazen left me feeling shattered to the very core, and 1 would sit and meditate on the Master’s words until late in the night before finally going to bed. Physically 1 was a mere shadow of my former self, but I no longer cared about that; in fact, if 1 had had the choice 1 would have liked to destroy my body completely in order to be free of the hindrances which it created.
The breakthrough finally came on 8 November. The Roshi had asked the same question once again the evening before:
‘What is your experience of the sound of the One Hand?’
The One is sufficient unto itself ‘1 replied, responding to the question about my experience, ‘it lives its life in me—in all beings.’
The Roshi breathed deeply for a few moments, as he always did before ‘It’ spoke through him. When he finally spoke his voice was very soft, and yet the effect could not have been less electrifying if a bolt of lightning had struck me directly, filling me with fire, even though he did not say anything that he had not said before again and again, his statements alternating in response to my answers:
‘There is no within. There is no without. There is only the One!’
1 don’t know why it was this statement which finally dissolved the koan. Intellectually at least, everything had already been clear for a long time In the stories regarding such experiences one often hears of Zen disciples driving themselves to the very brink of death in their attempts to solve their koans, and yet it is often some tiny, everyday occurrence which finally tips the scales and causes the last barriers to fall away.
In my case it was the Roshi’s words, ‘There is no within. There is no without’ which finished me, destroying a boundary that had already been crumbling away for a long time.
That night 1 sat down to meditate on what he had said, and suddenly it happened. There was no more koan, there was no question of any distinction, there was no ‘I’. There was only the One.
Early the next morning 1 sat down in zazen again, after less than three hours sleep, and the experience repeated itself. 1 reached the level of samadhi faster than ever before and then everything expanded into infinity and boundlessness. 1 am not quite sure whether ‘boundlessness’ is the right word. It is partly right, and partly wrong. The main reason that it is wrong is that when we use the word we cannot help imagining ‘something’, however vague that something is, and that is a mistake As far as 1 was concerned there was simply nothing. No vision, no ecstasy, nothing When I try to express what I experienced exactly as it was, without any decorative epithets, then all I can say is that there was nothing at all, and that I too was nothing
But this nothing only appeared to be nothing. In fact it was life itself, and I had been devoured by this life, by that which is the All in One. And however hard one tries, there is simply no way of describing the experience of unity with this ‘All in One’, it is indescribable, far beyond all words. Nothing one could possibly say is anywhere near being right. Even the term I used before to describe samadhi, blissful peacefulness, is wrong although it comes closer than anything else. But it is only part of it. There is no way of describing formless Being Being as an absolute state, Life itself, without beating around the bush and distorting the truth It is simply not possible and I must fail as all others have failed before me.
But 1 wasn’t thinking of anything like this that morning. Nothing could hold me back: I knew that I had to see the Master as soon as possible and I took part in the early morning zazen, even though it was officially only for the zendo monks.
The Roshi realized what had happened the moment 1 walked into the sanzen room. I was trembling all over, and when I knelt down before him he asked me about the sound of the One Hand, in a very soft and gentle voice My reply was completely incoherent. I stammered my experience of Unity in bits and pieces, my voice shaking, my body quaking and swaying to and fro as if I were about to collapse completely.
He nodded, his face radiant ‘Only One Hand!’ he cried joyfully ‘Only One Hand!’
I looked up into his face, which was luminous with an inner glow. He nodded once again before he reached over to ring his little bell to indicate that the sanzen was over.
Getting up was difficult, and I had to push myself up from the mat with both hands. I almost fell flat on my face as I bowed to the Master before leaving the room. The sweat flowed out of every pore in my body, and I staggered out of the sanzen room and along the corridor outside like a drunkard. Back in my room I collapsed on my bed, which was still lying unrolled on the floor. My body shook and quaked for a good hour as if I was having a fit of the chills, before it finally begin to calm down again. The few lines I managed to write in my diary are as shaky and scrawled as if I had written them on my knees in a swaying express train.
Source : The Master, the monks and I