A Glimpse of Nirvana
Our human capacity to use symbols and language is, from one perspective, a great miracle. It enabled us to band together and survive as a species in a way other animals were not able to do, and it enabled us to create profound aesthetic experiences merely through sounds. Later, we even learned to write these experiences down on stone or paper or parchment—a further miracle. Yet at the same time, this Promethean gift has its drawbacks.
Have you ever considered how young children can repeat the same playful experience over and over again, even when adults have long lost interest in the activity? Why is that? When a child rolls a ball across the floor to you, it really sees the ball rolling with endless fascination and surprise. Adults only see the same event in way that confirms their concept: a round object, when pushed across a smooth surface, tends to keep moving forward. Boring.
In moments of awakening, we can see directly, clearly, and freshly. This may be why Jesus said that you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven—the ever-present and eternal now—unless you become like a little child.
One time Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was walking in the forest with some children. One of them asked him what color the bark of the tree before them was. He replied, “It is the color that you see.” He wanted to encourage the child to abide in direct experience rather than conceptual knowledge.
Putting this into practice is not difficult, at least to catch a glimpse of what this means. Look at almost any object that you encounter—a coffee cup, a stone, water, or a tree. As you look at the object, see about letting go of the word and the concept of this object. Take a little time, and breathe in and out, allowing the direct, nonconceptual reality of the object to emerge. Even if you have only a little success with this, you may appreciate the tree or coffee cup in a different way. You have just caught a glimpse of nirvana.