“Our house is a single field, clean, vast, and lustrous, clearly self-illuminated. When the spirit is vacant without conditions, when awareness is serene without cogitation, then buddhas and ancestors appear and disappear transforming the world.”
11th century Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue, Cultivating the Empty Field
This quote is an excerpt from a longer quote on a page I tore out of a catalog of Buddhist statues and various meditation tools. It has been taped to the side of my refrigerator for several years and I often forget about it. But then one day, while cooking or washing dishes I see it and read it. The entire quote is about transformation and it is easily the strangest thing I’ve ever seen in a commercial publication of any kind because it actually references true magic; scary and beautiful magic.
I don’t know anything about Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue, though maybe I should learn something after reading his quote now and then for years. But I don’t think I will. Such strange transcendance should not be messed with. There is this sense of water in Zen, a sense that says it is lovely and refreshing but you cannot hold it in your hands. This is the nature of magic.
Several weeks ago the President was going around at his rallies, when they were still possible, and telling people that the virus could just go away when it got warm, “like magic”. I was struck at the time by how much this ridiculous statement reveals about his worldview. This was not magic but wishful thinking and there is a difference. For some reason I felt the need to think about this and about my attitude towards magic in general.
As a novelist I have no choice but to believe in magic. Stories come from somewhere mysterious, especially the ones I love. They are seldom carefully plotted and planned and often when you read about an author’s creative process they hit a blank when asked to describe where an idea came from. A phrase, an image in the mind’s eye, a random news story, or anecdote overheard in a bar- they come from somewhere but seldom from logic. It is a magical process.
I realize that for some these words betray a kind of weakness on my part, but I think it is a strength. One of the best gifts I have received in this life was my first novel; warts, flaws and all. It came from a fragment of a childhood dream I transposed to an experience my character has as an adult. A magical experience, which is a pretty tricky thing to capture. I actually made a rule that said no magical power or plot twist could fix things in this story. So I put a few magical things in it but they were only a part of the fabric around the story.
Being wishful is such a different thing. There are many things we cannot wish away, as we all see daily. The President still engages in wishful thinking because he is incapable of accessing magic. This, I believe, is his fatal flaw, or at least one amongst many. It saddens me that so many seek something magical from him and instead fall for a hopeless set of wishes.
I need to think more about this, especially the magic part.