Nisargadatta: “Consciousness does not shine by itself, it shines by a light beyond it.”
As was said in the last posting, the question ‘Who am I?’ is not a straightforward question. In other words, one has to question the question itself. What is it asking? It is easy just to take the question and ask it, as though one were asking ‘What is a tree?’ ‘What is a flower?’ ‘A house?’ When we ask these questions we want information that can be integrated within a network of information. We question with our conscious mind, which is a network of information, a conceptual and verbal structure. As long as we are asking the question ‘Who am I?’ with the conscious mind, as long as we are trying to fit ‘I am’ into our overall pattern of knowledge, we are chasing a chimera, a dream.
You must allow the question to come. It is a question that must come from upstream of the conscious mind. A problem with the question is that the ‘What is’ suggests that there is ‘something’ and fits it into the thingness category. It would be truer to say that I am is ongoing. Dogen said that Buddha nature is impermanent; it goes on: I am in the zendo, I am on the walkway, I am in the kitchen. The ‘I am’ is not fixed and stable, it is not something. Another problem is of course that if we are dealing with ‘not something’, then we feel we are dealing with ‘nothing’. So often people try to look into nothingness, an absence, a no-thingness; but all the time they are looking out, where it should be rather ‘looking through’.
‘I am’ is the light beyond consciousness. What is this beyond then? It means the conscious mind is thoroughly infused by ‘I am’. A mirror is ‘beyond’ what is reflected in it. The reflections do not reflect themselves, they are reflected by a light beyond them, by the mirror. This room is not lit up by itself, it is lit up by daylight. Daylight is beyond the room, but it thoroughly infuses the room.
Nisargadatta: “Having seen the dreamlike quality of consciousness, look for the light by which it appears, which gives it being.” Consciousness has no reality of its own.
When one is asking ‘Who am I?’ we must look in the direction of awareness, not for a viewpoint; not for something which sees, but the process of seeing itself. Knowing gives being to all, because knowing is being. But knowing and being are not the same; form is emptiness, emptiness is form..
Nisargadatta: “There is the content of consciousness as well as the awareness of it.”
There is what I know and that I know. They are quite different. ‘That I know’ lies beyond ‘what I know’, although ‘what I know’ is thoroughly infused by it.
At the moment, I am sitting in the zendo. We look on a statement like this as fact. It has, we feel, its own truth, own reality, this is how it is. But reality depends on that I know. Not on what I know – ‘I am sitting in this zendo’ has no substance without ‘that I know’. ‘What I know’ changes constantly. From young boy, to young man, to a middle-aged man. That I know is unchanging. However anxious I may be, tormented, dispirited or sad, it all takes its reality from ‘that I am’, ‘that I know’. ‘That I know’ is unconditional and timeless. ‘That I am’ is the same in a young boy, a young man, a middle aged man, an old man, and a dying man.
Ultimately I cannot know that I know. Knowing is all, I cannot get away from it in order to know it. But that I know always has content.
There is a shift necessary. A leap from what I know, what I am, to that I am. Forget the known, but remember that you are the knowing. Don’t be all the time immersed in and identified with your experiences. We look on experience as the cause of our suffering, but experience is the result of our suffering. Remember you are beyond the experiencer, ever unborn and deathless. It is what I am that is born and dies, and in a lifetime there are many births and deaths.
What was your face before your parents were born? i.e. let go of all you are, before what you are had any shape or form. That I am has no shape, no beginning and no end. Take away the ‘what’ and you do not have nothing. In remembering that you are beyond experience, the quality of pure knowing will emerge, the light of unconditional awareness.
The only reality is that I am.
Thanks so much for this article. Please, i have a question not related to the Teisho.
In many religious traditions, we insist a lot about prayer, my question is :why do we pray??
Meditation for me, it is a way to free my mind, a way to be no more identified by my thoughts and my emotions. a way to have a contact with who i am. Do we will consider Meditation like a prayer??
I don’t know if there is such thing as a prayer in Zen too.