We have Yasutani Roshi saying, “the fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there.” And Nisargadatta saying: “we think we are an individual, a person, when we are not an individual, we are intrinsically always and only the Absolute.”
The Absolute, the One, Buddha nature, Knowing, Emptiness, Mind – so many different words used in an effort to express the ineffable; to point us in a direction we have never thought of going; you might say, pointing us south when all our lives we have been going north. Turning everything on its head really; no wonder there is anxiety when we start to get a glimmering of what is being said when we allow what is being said to penetrate.
teisho 1155 /2008
It is the direction in which you are looking that is important. Zen is not a collection of techniques to fix things or change things; it is this feeling of control that is the great illusion we have. This does not mean we do not make a contribution, but the major contribution we make is interference.
When we talk about practice we are not suggesting there is something you can apply and thus get beneficial results; it is more pointing in a direction in which to look. By looking we mean turning your whole orientation in that direction. Nisargadatta challenges the orientation we have, the way we look at things, feeling we are a body or a person or a mind, – it is the notion of a separate entity which is at issue here.
With the idea of a distinct entity comes the notion of this entity being in the world, part of the world. The world is regarded as a big box with everything in it, including ourselves. When it is said that the trees and fields are my face, people think there is an entity that has a face, and wonder how fields and trees can be that face.
It is the same with practice: we start with this entity, and feel we have to find out what this entity is, what it consists of, its form, its shape and colour.
When we ask ‘Who am I?’ we cannot start by taking it for granted that we know what the question means. If we think the question is addressing that separate entity, that distinct individual that we feel ourselves to be, and struggle to make sense of the question within that context, then we are bound to be frustrated.
With this question, one is going in a very definite but unknown direction. This means we must question everything, even what seems so obvious. It seems so obvious that I am here and you are there, and yet this is provisional only, ‘as if’ I am here and ‘as if’ you are there. All the words we use should be qualified by ‘as if’ – ‘as if’ I am a man, a woman, ‘as if’ I am a human being, ‘as if’ I am a mind, – otherwise words have the capacity to fix things as real and separate.
When we see that there is a sense of self-will and that which is beyond self will, we can begin to loosen the hold that this idea of a separate self has. When you follow the breath, you are releasing the grip that this sense of self has. But you must be following the breath, not controlling it. Controlling the breath simply reinforces the sense of being a separate individual.
It also applies to working on ‘who am I?’ You are.
From the beginning all beings are Buddha. This is dynamic unity, the wholeness out of which the sense of self comes. It is beyond the conscious mind to conceive of the truth. It can only conceive of shadows, it cannot conceive of light.
Although when you are working with the question ‘Who am I?’ you are working with the unknown, the unknowable, you are not working with the nonexistent. ‘I am’ has its own evidence of being, which is reality. Nothing else has its own evidence of being.
I am is self affirming, self realizing.