Notes & Quotes: One Blade of Grass by Henry Shukman

The following are my favorite quotes from Henry Shukman's One Blade of Grass: Finding the Old Road of the Heart, a Zen Memoir.

  1. My gaze fixed on the wall in front of me--a wall of adobe, glowing in the light of a lamp. An intense love for the wall welled up, almost as if I were falling in love with it, and it with me. All of a sudden, with what felt like a seismic jolt, the room seemed to blow wide open, the whole scene became an infinitely broad expanse, and it was as if I was sucked into that expanse myself and became part of it, so that the desert hills outside, which reached down to Gallup, in the valley two miles away, and on beyond, were my very own body.
  2. It was true, as the Buddhists said: I was one with the world. I was one with everything. The whole world was my body, my mind. And because of that, I was beloved, I belonged, I was healed in all possible ways. All had been well, secretly well, all along.
  3. Speedy didn't have a home, or a kitchen, or a bedroom. He basically just had himself, that was all. That and the land. He was at home anywhere. He was his home.
  4. I had thought I wanted to go out and see the world. Instead it was the other way around: the world opened its arms and pulled me in.
  5. This is a story not only of awakening but of healing. Perhaps the two can't, or shouldn't, be separated. No healing without a wound. 
  6. Help is always at hand. We just may not know where to look for it. 
  7. The change of location, the new job, the therapy, the publishers, quitting the PhD: they had all happened once I took up meditation. Was it possible that just sitting still twice a day could bring order to a disordered psychophysiology, and regulate a dysregulated life?
  8. I had a diagnosis now: dysthymia. Persistent, low-grade, shame-based depression. It was tricky, because one of the symptoms was a denial of symptoms prompted by shame at they symptoms--the shame itself being one of the symptoms. Cleverly circular.
  9. I began to do zazen daily. Over the weeks I grew to love it: a sense of clarity, a watery quality to everything, would come on.
  10. How could it be that zazen--just sitting and watching one's breath--allowed all these old feelings to come up and work themselves out? Was it possible that all the human heart really needed was time? Give it time and it would sort itself out? You just had to be patient, allow it its period of grace each day.
  11. He told me about the discipline of living as an artist, the need to practice your art every day without fail, how you should get up early each morning to work before you did anything else. You needed to trust your instincts and cultivate wonder.
  12. Death unites us, love unites us, and grief unites us.
  13. It was suddenly clear that all my life I had been assuming these many stimuli happened to a being called me. They were connected to one another by virtue of happening to me. But there was no thread connecting them. Each arose independently. They were free.
  14. Without me, there was no past or future. Every phenomenon that arose was happening for the first and only time, and filled all awareness entirely. That made it an absolute treasure.
  15. After any retreat, there was always a sense of having been cleansed, absolved even, and of returning to the world with new eyes.
  16. I began to learn from other writers at the college. I had been so much my own man, I hadn't realized there were people willing to help. Perhaps the wisdom of Zen was creeping in bit by bit, touching the way I lived, not guarded but ready to give and receive help. One could feel goodwill toward just about everybody if one wanted.
  17. This is part of Zen training. There is the sudden side--the unbidden revelation of the nature of self and world--and the gradual: the soil prepared through long cultivation.
  18. I saw that meditation was not just meditation. It was a means, a vessel, a vehicle. Through daily sitting, through going on periodic sesshins at Cold Ash, a retreat center on the Berkshire Downs where three dozen of us would sit with John for a week, it was possible to undergo much more than a calming of the nervous system. In meditation we could pursue the fundamental investigation of a lifetime: the search for our identity.
  19. I was slowly beginning to understand that Zen wasn't just about meditative absorption and insight, nor was it something done alone. It was about activity, about how you lived and interacted, how you treated others. It wasn't enough to "be enlightened," whatever that might mean; what counted was living it.
  20. If Zen training is a kind of parenting, we are being stripped down more than built up, shown how little we need, not how much.
  21. Could anything matter more than the present moment? Somehow that was where life itself was always waiting to meet me, if only I could remember.
  22. My existence was a gift, and its unspeakable generosity had been hidden from me, by nothing but a mirage of grasping and aversion, by a basic ignorance that consisted in taking a mirage as real.
  23. Zen may undermine false assumptions, but its goal is to help us live more helpfully--not in servitude to an imaginary tyrant called "me," but in the service of others.
  24. Nothing matters more than finding that our "real self" is absolutely inclusive. And learning how to live it is the journey of a lifetime.
  25. This was what Zen existed for: to bring a human being to a condition that, impossibly, resolved everything. And to pass it on.
  26. The further you go in Zen the less you understand. That's how it is. You end up feeling a bit like Socrates, who said he knew only one thing, namely that he knew nothing. Although in Zen you don't even know that.
  27. Zen: the only way to keep it is to give it away.
  28. In the end it's all a fairy tale. In the end, all Zen saves us from is ourselves. It may be a little inaccurate but not unreasonable to say that in the end, all Zen is is love.
  29. To bow to circumstance, not to set oneself up in any way, is crucial if we are to have any chance of receiving the liberative beauty of the teaching and passing it on.
  30. Zen is soteriological. It therefore must be conceded to have an agenda of sorts. It seeks in some ways to "save" us, if only by relieving us of the baggage of our assumptions and preconceptions. But it saves us not from malign superhuman forces, nor into the arms of a heavenly being, but simply from ourselves. Its tagline might be: "How to get saved from yourself." It seeks to free us rom a mistaken perspective generated by a misunderstanding about our sense of self: namely, that it's a thing, that me is a fixed entity. On the other hand, it doesn't seek to replace wrong views with right ones. Rather, it seeks to free us of all views.