Odilon Redon, Buddha Walking Among the Flowers, 1905.
“Most of us are like a fish caught in a hook. The Buddha is trying to reel us in; the hook holding us is our deep spiritual longing. We spend most of the time struggling, not wanting to be reeled in, not wanting to let go of all the things that we are desperately holding. While we often know that spiritual training will take us in the right direction, we say to ourselves, “But I need to do this,” or “I must have that.”
When we reflect on our lives, we see that we have been fighting what the Dharma is asking us to do: to let go and open our hearts; to embrace and accept everything that unfolds in both in our lives and the life of the world.
The anonymous author of the medieval Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing describes a form of prayer that also aptly describes the essence of Buddhist meditation:
When you first begin, you will find only darkness, as it were a cloud of unknowing. You do not know what it means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will and this darkness and this cloud remains between you and God… By “darkness” I mean a “lack of knowing”–just as anything you do not know or may have forgotten may be said to be “dark” to you, for you cannot see it with your inward eye… So if you are to stand and not fall, never give up your firm intention: beat away at this cloud of unknowing between you and God and with that sharp dart of longing love.
This deepest form of prayer is really just the willingness to be still and let the longing in your heart go out without defining or understanding where it is going. This is faith. Our minds cannot see the goal of spiritual training. Meditation is the willingness to let go and learn to trust so that we may enter into this seeming darkness. In the passage from The Cloud of Unknowing, the writer is expressing the idea that our minds cannot grasp God, cannot even begin to say what God is, and yet our hearts are reaching out. A Buddhist way of saying this is that our small minds and intellects cannot even begin to fully grasp or understand the boundless life of Buddha.”♦
—An excerpt from a Dharma talk given by Kinrei Bassis, “The Buddha Calling the Buddha,” Learning to listen, PARABOLA, Volume 31, No. 2, “Absence and Longing,” 2006.