Albert often warned about the trap of words. In teisho 994 he says that two thirds of the koans are dealing with this and that koan 84 is the most well known. In this koan Vimalakirti asks Manjusri, “What is the Bodhisatva’s gate to the one and only?”
Manjusri said, “There are no words, no preaching, no talking, no activity of consciousness; it is beyond all questions and answers.” Though you say ‘it is’ there is nothing that ‘it is’ can affirm.
Who am I? What am I? What is Mu? The words point in a certain direction; they should be pointing towards no boundaries, but instead the ‘who’, the ‘what’ point towards something, something separate, enclosed, with its own self-nature. Where an endeavor is being made to point south, the words used point north. We set about trying to find the something that I am, the something that Mu is.
The Japanese version of this question: “What is your face before your parents were born?” means that we must let go of all that can be grasped by the senses. Furthermore, we must be released from the viewpoint. That is to say, I must let go of what I know leaving that I know. ‘That I know’ is my face before my parents were born.
We take language for granted, we don’t question it. Take it for granted that it is saying what it is saying. ‘What am I?’ sounds a pretty open ended question, leaving one plenty of room to move around, and surely it couldn’t be more direct. But it herds you like sheep into the fold of somethingness, of is and is not.
The various traditions presumed that there was some substratum, something beyond it all. The Greeks gave us the notion of Being, and only just recently with Heidegger has this notion of Being been challenged. But Buddhism has been challenging it ever since Buddha first opened his mouth.
The world is real because it has been fixed in words. We believe there is a kind of eternity of time and that things occur within this. We believe time was before I was born and time will be after I am dead. ‘From the beginning not a thing is’, and we cannot grasp this because of our belief in the eternity of being and time that comes from the fact that we have words. The feeling that consciousness and things endure comes from words and the underlying idea that supports those words. To go beyond that is awakening. One awakens to, becomes aware of, the trap of words.
Where are you when a bird sings? It is beyond all questions and answers, beyond all possibility of being discovered or found through questioning. The Bodhisatva’s gate to the one and only, the Bodhisatva’s gate to you. You are beyond all questions and answers.
Before the question arises, what are you? That is entering the gate.