It’s likely that when this conversation between the two monks began, they wanted to understand the nature of movement. They wanted to clearly comprehend the phenomenon of the flag flapping in the wind, the nature of an object. Probably there was a question. Most definitely, within that question, there was an uncertainty, a vagueness, an opening that touched everything, a vulnerability that crept into the center of the psyche. That is what happens with every good, deep question. It goes deep. It subverts. In its questioning it can begin to open and keep opening layers of what our mind touches, which is the whole of reality. It is always challenging to hold that openness, to rest dynamically within that doubt.
So, since it is easier, more convenient and apparently secure to come to rest, we come to rest. The monks settled into a state of conclusive knowing. The sense of self crystallized within the investment in their respective positions. “This is how it is,” became “This is who I am.” “The flag is moving.” “No, the wind is moving.” Assertions of identity within a view. Fixity of mind. End of life.
In our interactions with each other, in moments of contact, there’s always a profound difference between using each other to test our understanding as opposed to using our understanding to test others, to use them as a captive audience to seek self-verification within our brilliance and definitiveness. It is always a pleasure to enter into a conversation with somebody with the openness to really hear how his or her viewpoint illuminates something about where we stop in our investigation. To learn how to rest in questions, in inquiry, and to learn how to intensify and skillfully direct this inquiry is at the heart of spiritual training. In trusting our questions we’re continuously ridding our mindscape of daydreams, of hypotheses and certainties. We become free to listen to reality. We invite the teachings. Is it the flag moving? Is it the wind moving? Is it your mind that’s moving? What is your mind moving?
Rumi, the Sufi poet, asked a group of people: “How far is the light of the moon from the moon?” When there was no response, he turned to the moon and asked, “Where is God?” In the ensuing silence, he walked away.
Pablo Neruda’s last collection of poems is titled The Book of Questions. Edited and released just a few months before he died, it consists of some fifty poems, where every single line of every poem is a question. This is where Neruda arrives within his journey, a journey that was full of twists and turns in the study of the human heart, of the land and its people, of politics, of passions. He was not shy about turning his attention to dark corners. After years and years of truly investigating, looking to every aspect of this world with deep care and love, there are more questions. The last breath—a question. These are just two of those questions, pointing to how far we can go, simply by asking a question and then resting within it:
When I see the sea once more,
Will the sea have seen or not seen me?
What is the distance, in round meters,
Between the sun and the oranges?