The Awakening of Gerta Ital
Excerpts from Gerta Ital's book, The Master, The Monks, and I, 1988
Heaven and earth melted into one. I was, and I was not, both at the same time. Dissolved into the Void I experienced it as space, as formless space. But I was not the watcher, I was Being.
I am floating about as though my body were no longer subject to the law of gravity. I am wholly and completely "here", but my body feels as though it doesn't weigh anything at all, as though it had become transparent. And as I write these words I realize that this transparency extends to everything, not just to my body: my feelings, my consciousness, my spirit, everything is unbelieveably light, without being any less intense. In fact, now that the body feeling is gone my entire awareness, including the world of my emotions, has become so luminously sharp and cloudless - if this state were permanent it would be heaven on earth. ... It is combined with causeless joy, joy as a state unto itself, not joy 'about' anything.
There was a brief silence. Then he raised his hand and rang his bell. I staggered as I tried to get up, almost falling over. In the moment that his commands had penetrated the very center of my being, like bolts of lightning from another world, I had had an experience of satori.
My everyday consciousness disappeared and was transformed into a superconsciousness in which I was no longer "I" - I was one with the Roshi Buddha-Being sitting before me, and also with my surroundings and with space itself, which had been extended into infinity. Everything was one, and I was this One. ... I knew that I had already died. I had died to everyone and everything which had ever filled up my existence. ...
This knowledge, ... was accompanied by indescribable bliss. ... it wasn't bliss about something, the unity itself was the bliss.
All of this took place in a matter of seconds. ... The realized and the realizer were not a duality, subject and object did not exist, everything was one single whole.
Selected thoughts and dialogues with the Roshi during Gerta's work on the koan "One Hand"
(Roshi's dialogue in italics):
"How do you hear the voice of the One Hand?"
"There is no voice ..."
"There is no philosophical discussion in Zen! You must hear the sound!"
"How do you hear the voice of the One Hand?"
In reply I raised my right arm slightly, making a vigorous movement.
The Roshi simply rang his bell; that was his only answer.
"How do you hear the sound of the One Hand?"
"I hear it within myself."
"There is nothing there," he answered, without a moment's hesitation. "There is nothing 'within me.' Everything is one. Heaven, earth, man, this room. All is one!"
I had been sitting for many hours on end, with a few short breaks every now and then. My inner world was completely empty, even the thought of the One had completely disappeared. And then something happened, which had, in fact, already happened several times before, but it had never lasted for very long: my sense of myself as something "solid" disappeared. The barrier, if I may use this term to describe the physical body, had dropped away. ... I had dissolved completely. All that was left was Being as such, pure and unadulterated. I was one with Being itself, and thus with all existence.
I know that this sounds incredible, but it is actually not at all dramatic. It is a state which transcends all emotions and feelings, and it is at the same time indescribably blissful and peaceful. ... Peaceful bliss seems to be the original state of all things before they enter into the realm of Existence.
Returning from this state of unity is just as unsensational as entering it. In my case the beginning of this process of returning was always the first conscious mental awareness of the fact that I was in a state of unity in the first place. This awareness brought the first thought with it which was followed by a breath, and I would suddenly be a person of flesh and blood again, sitting there crosslegged on a thin cushion in the middle of the night.
One becomes aware of the fruits of the state of samadhi in small, everyday things. You begin to notice that your reactions to outward events, even if they are of a very personal nature, have become totally calm and relaxed. It is as though the core of one's being is no longer touched by anything, and as a result one finds oneself at peace. And this is a peace which can no longer be shattered by anything, and which is characterized by a sense of serene cheerfulness.
At the same time, however - and this is an experience which everyone who travels this path makes - one is completely alone from this moment onwards, for one has abandoned all of one's human bonds. ... One continues to play one's role as before, but from now on one is aware that one is playing.
"Nothing exists but the One", he said in a loud voice. "The Christians call it God. We say the One. Nothing else exists. You must forget yourself as an ego, as an individual. There is no Gerta Ital. There is only the One."
"How do you experience the One Hand?"
"The One is both the formless and the formed, and the One Hand is everything, I am the One Hand."
"There is no 'I'!" he cried, his voice like a metallic crack of thunder. "There is only the One!"
"There is no Gerta Ital! There is no Roshi! There is only the One!"
"What is your experience of the sound of the One Hand?"
"The One is sufficient unto itself, it lives its life in me - in all beings."
"There is no within. There is no without. There is only the One!"
... everything expanded into infinity and boundlessness. I am not quite sure whether 'boundlessness' is the right word. It is partly right and partly wrong. The main reason that it is wrong is that when we use the word we cannot help imagining 'something', however vague that something is, and that is a mistake. As far as I was concerned there was simply nothing. No vision, no ecstacy, nothing. ... there was nothing at all, and I too was nothing.
But this nothing only appeared to be nothing. In fact it was life itself and I had been devoured by this life, by that which is the All in One. And however hard one tries, there is simply no way of describing the experience of unity with this "all in One", it is indescribable, far beyond all words.
The Roshi realized what had happened the moment I walked into the sanzen room. I was trembling all over, and when I knelt down before him he asked me about the sound of the One Hand, in a very soft and gentle voice. My reply was completely incoherent. I stammered my experience of Unity in bits and pieces, my voice shaking, my body quaking and swaying to and fro as if I were about to collapse completely. He nodded, his face radiant. "Only One Hand!" he cried joyfully. "Only One Hand!"
"How are you?" he asked compassionately as I kneeled down in front of him. My response came immediately, without being interrupted by any thoughts: "Nothing" The Roshi burst into uproarious and hearty laughter ... "Be One Hand!"
Be a mountain, a river, a tree, a flower. Be one with all beings, then you will have the great all-embracing Love.