Guidance from the Void: How I met My “Zen” Master

Once upon a time, when I was but an innocent, I had a deep desire to know the ways of life and what it meant to be a man. Approaching a rabbi I asked him. “Reb, what’s God? And what’s our relationship to all that?

The rabbi pointed me towards the Torah and encouraged me to read, but the words in the book couldn’t fill the void I felt deep at the center of me. So I walked on and found a priest. “Father? Would you tell me, please? Can I be like Jesus, too? He seems like a really good guy and he’s got this life thing down.”

The kindly priest poured a bit of water on my head and told me that I was now baptized in His spirit. He asked me if I accepted the Lord as my savior and I honestly agreed. “Of course, He’s my savior. Why shouldn’t He be?” But still, there was this void in me. And it was getting kinda loud.

So I visited a local bookstore and read, and read, and read. Trying to fill this void in me with something else instead. But the emptiness wouldn’t be filled; a growing anxiety wouldn’t be stilled. So I left my childhood behind me and made for the deserts of the Middle East where I’d heard holy men to be. Perhaps they could tell me how to fill this void in me.

The mystics taught me ancient alchemy and filled my mind with formula. They told me that the insight I sought could be known through a holy Kabbalah. So I applied my mind to number and letter, knowing myself to be so much the better, for all the knowledge I’d gained. And yet a subtle voice still beckoned. “You’ve yet got much to reckon.” It spoke from a place deep inside of me. Whispers from a void that promised to devour me.

I’d heard in tales of days gone by, that in Japan were temples and shrines, in which sages engaged in holy meditation. So I set out once more to foreign shore. Life was fast becoming a great adventure. I knew no trepidation. Only that something moved me steadily onward. “Go beyond! Go beyond! Go far, far beyond!” That Silent voice would say. It was as if this void existed only to show me the way.

So I walked. For miles and miles and miles. Through forest and vale. I never knew sunshine could feel so delicious, or that rain could be so comforting. Taking shelter in abandoned shanties or sleeping in the fields, I never felt so at home. Far, far away from the life I used to know. I met Buddha on the road to Rome, put a coin in his bowl and left Him behind me. The void was fast becoming my home. I recalled the questions of youth; they seemed to define me even as I lived out their answer in my journeys. I couldn’t see it though; it was all to close to me.

Sitting seiza with the monks; tending the garden, my convictions only hardened. “This is sweet.” I thought. “But they don’t know the innocence of Eden, even for all the beauty of this scene.” And I took myself away from my oriental vacation, determined even more now to discover my station, and silence this terrible Siren at the heart of me. So I put myself on a little plane to India and flew home to Mother. Surely She’d smother me in Her affection. Point me in the right direction.

In Calcutta, in the City of Joy, I met St. Theresa, and she would show me a sister’s love. But if she were as the dove, it was still not enough. Her voice did not pierce to the void. So I took myself north, to Daram Shala, where I’d listen to the Dalai Lama’s voice. But His Holiness was not empty… or maybe it was me. But it seemed the kindnesses he’d offered would not begin to fill me. This void was interminable, indefatigable, impossible to satiate. I’d have to take myself to colder places; maybe there I’d be able to meditate. So I went north again, stopping at four-thousand meters when the air started to get thin. And I sat on a rock and looked at the barren beauty of the Himalayan hills. And my Master sat down beside me and encouraged me to have a look within. See the thoughts if they should rise and tell them with a grin. “Neti Neti.” Not this. Not this. Go beyond them for the Truth. Meet the Silence in the void, the One that called to you in youth.

Go beyond. Go beyond. Go all the way beyond. There I’ll meet my master again, father, brother and dearest friend.