As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm very interested in Buddhism — Zen Buddhism in particular. This is not the place to go into the fascinating and complex history of Buddhism in India, China and Japan; nor is it the place to explain how DT Suzuki brought his interpretation of Zen to a spiritually-bereft Western world. Suffice to say that, simply put, there are two modes of Zen thought and practice — not mutually exclusive, but interwoven and complementary: one involves study, contemplation, meditation and discipline; the other is the spontaneous, immediate, less intellectual, more intuitive experience of koan and satori. Reflecting back on my recent Camino along the Via Francigena, it occurs to me that my illuminative moments on the banks of the Rhône were an unexpected, unpremeditated satori. Here's my account of it:
It was near to here, on a flower-strewn bank overlooking the river, that I had my picnic lunch: a superb garlic sausage, doux Fontal cheese and pain complet from the Migros supermarket in Aigle, plus a small 20 cl bottle of Aigle les Murailles white wine bought in the castle shop. It was an idyllic place, and, after the meal, I experienced one of those sublime, mystical moments I treasure so much. You never forget such rare, spontaneous events, and they cannot be manufactured or predicted. Suddenly I had a strong conviction that everything was coming together in an almost magical way: my mind, body and soul felt at one with the life I was leading out there on the road — and at one with the universe itself. My practical skills for what they were worth — knife or route-finding or backpacking skills for instance — seemed to merge effortlessly with any emotional and spiritual intelligence I might have; it was an overwhelming, deeply satisfying sense of harmony, control and insight. I have explained it as best I can, but really the experience was beyond words. This intense state lasted for perhaps five minutes, then, when I had packed up and left, the feeling was still there, but more diluted. Here I was, living cheaply and well, each day in the open air and in the heart of nature, like some vagabond or holy tramp, in good health, in good spirits, and as free as a bird . . . Indeed, I was truly fortunate.