Jizô asked Hôgen, “Where are you going, senior monk?”
Hôgen said, “I am on pilgrimage, following the wind.”
Jizô said, “What are you on pilgrimage for?”
Hôgen said, “I don’t know.”
Jizô said, “Not knowing is most intimate.”
Hôgen suddenly attained great enlightenment.
About 20 years ago, I helped Kevin Williamson choose poems for publication in Rebel Inc.
One day, when we met up to discuss some submissions, he handed me a poem that didn’t have the author’s name on it. “What do you think of this?” he said.
"Who wrote it?" I said.
"I’ll tell you after you tell me what you think of it," he said.
Was this a poem by someone I knew and liked? Someone I knew and disliked? He wouldn’t tell me. I read the poem, and, wondering if it was written by my worst enemy, I recommended that it be published.
Afterward, I realized that it was the first time in years that I had intimately read a poem. Usually, when I read a poem, I had a story about it. In a poem I read by Gary Snyder - one of my favorite poets - the first line seemed like a cringe-worthy cliche, and had it been written by someone else I would have laughed at it. But because I knew it was by Snyder, and I knew that I liked Snyder’s poetry, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t reading the poem intimately, but through the filter of my “knowing.”
I have a Zen student who’s a talented photographer. Sometimes he uses an editing program to enhance his photos. I prefer the ones he leaves unenhanced. Recently, I was looking at some new photos of his, and I saw one of an airplane that was glowing with a colorful painting of a cardinal. Assuming it had been enhanced, I decided it was an okay picture, but that I didn’t like it as much as I liked the others. Then I realized that it hadn’t been enhanced - the airplane was actually painted with that design. I then felt that it was one of my favorite pictures he had taken. The picture hadn’t changed, but my story, my “knowing,” had. I wasn’t viewing the picture intimately.
We do this not just with the books we read and the pictures we view, but with all of our lives. We think we know what’s going on, but it’s that very knowing that keeps us separate from our lives and our hearts. Not knowing is most intimate.