The Abyss

The work leader of the monastery told this story:

I had reached an impasse after twenty-five years in the monastery.  I had devoted myself diligently to monastic practice.  Through much effort my powers of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion were among the strongest the Abbot had ever seen. I was known for my peace and equanimity.  I had few obvious attachments.

However, I had not yet attained realization.  Other monks, with less time in the monastery and less thorough practice had reached various levels of awakening. Everyone thought my circumstance was most strange.

Then one day the Abbot took me aside for a long talk. We discussed how I was held back by my fear of completely letting go. As much as I trusted the spiritual life, at my core was some deep, unarticulated nagging mistrust. As long as I could remember, a part of me was on the lookout for impending tragedy.  At the end of the conversation the Abbot told me he could think of only one more catalyst for my enlightenment. Just the possibility brought me tears of joy … until he told me it meant entering a basement room called “the Abyss.”

No one in many generations had entered this room. Only the abbot was entrusted with the secret knowledge of what was inside. No one else knew.  While the red door to the room was kept locked, it didn’t need to be.  An atmosphere of terror emanated from within and the monks were afraid to walk anywhere close to the door.

Walking down to the basement the Abbot explained that my one and last opportunity was inside this room.  Once I entered this room, there would be no turning back.  Standing in front of the door I had mixed feelings about entering.  The abbot carefully explained the instructions that had been transmitted to him. I was to step into the room.  The abbot was to close and lock the door behind me and under no circumstance was he to unlock it again. On entering the room I was simply to walk to the other side of the room and exit through the door there. It sounded easy enough.

Suddenly, the abbot opened the door and pushed me inside. Before I could get my bearings, I heard the door lock behind me.

The room proved to be huge, perhaps 100 feet wide. On the other side of the room was a door just like the one I had entered.

The room had no floor.  I was standing on a two foot ledge as wide as the door. Between me and the other door was a gaping abyss. I could not see the bottom.  From the depths came horrible grinding and cracking sounds.  Occasionally a ball of flame shot upward.

I was scared and perplexed.  How was I supposed to walk across?  I spent the first day standing on the ledge studying the room, certain that I was meant to discover some secret way to get across.  I spent the second day banging on the door hoping that someone would let me out.  I cried most of the third day until, while sitting on the ledge, one of my slippers fell off my foot. As it fell the grinding noises seemed to get worse.

On the fourth day I desperately and repeatedly reviewed the instructions.  They were so simple: Walk across the room and out the other door. Could I trust the Abbot?

Tired and hungry, on the fifth day I gave up all hope.  Convinced I had no other choice but to try the instructions, I decided to walk out off the ledge.  I tried not to imagine what awaited me down in the depths. Terrified, I looked straight ahead and took a step into the room, into the unknown.  As my foot came down, the ledge stretched forward, receiving me with a firm, stable base.

It took me another day to take the second step, but when I finally did, the ledge again extended itself outwards to receive my foot.  I continued walking into the emptiness and with each step the ledge became longer. Soon enough I had reached the opposite side.

From that day on, letting go into the freedom of realization has come easily.