Looking Deeply into God

Space is a helpful metaphor for what we are calling God – those of us prone to that word – but it is still just a metaphor. In and of itself it is not liberating. It is not that to which it points.

Consider a ceramic tea pot. In late morning, after we have finished our tea, it rests on the counter. Space is precedent to the pot – without space, the pot cannot “be.” Space “holds” the pot; the pot occupies space. It fills a tiny amount of space there on the counter.

Yet the tea pot also contains space – a tiny amount of space is inside the tea pot.

In this example, we are the tea pot and space is God. Space is the divine. We are this form that exists within the divine – we are contained, or held, by the divine – and yet we simultaneously contain the divine.

When the tea pot breaks – or is filled with tea – or is put away in a cupboard – what happens to the space that contained and is contained by it? Nothing at all. It’s still there.

Just so with what we are calling God and just so with what we are calling our “self.”

Metaphors (like space and tea pots and God) are linguistic constructs and not meant to be conclusive or dispositive. Rather, they (hopefully) helpfully point at that which cannot be contained or referenced by linguistic constructs.

Here it is helpful to paraphrase Ryokan, whose take on the traditional Zen story of the finger pointing at the moon is so richly clarifying.

You know the story – the novice asks her master to point to the moon. The master points at the moon in the sky and the novice stares at the teacher’s finger and says, “how beautiful the moon is.”

Here is Ryokan, somewhat paraphrased:

You stop to point
at the moon in the sky
but your finger is blind
unless the moon is shining.

One moon, one careless finger pointing –
are these two things or one?

The question is a pointer
guiding a novice
out of ignorance as thick as fog.

Look deeper!
The mystery calls and calls:
No moon, no finger –
nothing there at all.

The metaphor in this post – space and the tea pot – is the pointing finger that Ryokan so cheerfully demolishes. The invitation is to “look deeper” – to give attention to what is showing up without rushing to label or define or compartmentalize it. See the “space” that is neither “space” nor “no space.”

Or don’t see it. Ryokan’s “point” is that looking and pointing – and even the moon itself – are neither real nor not-real, neither here nor not-here. Whatever this is, it is not contingent on understanding or application. In a sense, that is liberation – the recognition there is nothing to do and nobody to do it and yet apparently doing happens.

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