the incalculable eons are but one moment
and this moment is no moment
– Haw Yen Sutra

Frederick Franck writes about NEN moments in The Awakened Eye:

The 7th-Century masters had become aware of time as composed of ultra-short time-fragments which they called NEN, thought-moments of such flashing brevity that for all practical purposes they could be called timeless.

When my eye perceives something in the outer world, it registers it during the first, immeasurably short mini-instant or NEN, in a direct vision which is purely intuitive and cognitive, as in a flash of profound insight into that which is seen. This first mini-instant of direct apprehension or insight into Reality, however, is followed immediately by a “second NEN”, and with the same lightning speed by a “third NEN”.

The second NEN is a flash of mental reflection, of becoming aware of my intuitive insight, of this profound “knowing”. But in the “third NEN”, which follows just as rapidly, this awareness become “my” awareness: both previous flashes become integrated in my continuous stream of consciousness; are processed, as it were, in that region of the mind where reasoning, labeling, introspection – in short, ego – feeling – take over. The experience now becomes part of “my” consciousness and at once the Me begins to interpret, to rationalize and to draw “logical” conclusions from the direct perception, to distort the direct, “clairvoyant” grasp of the first NEN, and to imprison it once more in words and concepts. These cogitations, analyses and conclusions snowball further until the intuitive revelation of the first Nen is totally lost.

[ and what might “first NEN” have to do with the awakened eye? ]

Everything!! The discipline of seeing/drawing is that of BECOMING ALL EYE: that is, of seeing with the first NEN, so that each touch, each impact of pen on paper jumps from retina to hand – short-circuiting the interpretive machinery of the brain’s third NEN activity, to land precisely in the right spot. In rapid but quiet succession, uninterrupted by thinking, these first NEN transcriptions fall into place! My line is the movement from first NEN to first NEN. Or rather: these first NENS precipitate themselves in strokes and dots, and these strokes and dots form a perfectly continuous mosaic of first NEN imprints which, together, become an image!

The very moment the third NEN (that is : “Me”) is given the slightest chance to interfere, it takes over and the mosaic is disturbed: all proportions are off, the jigsaw puzzle no longer fits together…

– Frederick Franck

The Awakened Eye

More books by Frederick Franck

seeing/drawing as meditation

the Face of faces

the 10 commandments
(guidelines for the creative life)

the measure of a moment

pages index