Nisargadatta: “As long as you take yourself to be a person, a body or a mind, separate from the stream of life, having a will of its own, pursuing its own aims, you are living merely on the surface.”
This points the direction we must go in our practice. What is a person? What does it mean, I am a person? We call this person ‘I’. It is this ‘I’ that we are investigating. We believe intently that we are this ‘I’. When we think we are a person we think we are something, that there is some form that we have, some shape, some kind of existence that we have. We are so habituated to the notion that there has to be an I – that thinks, that feels, that makes decisions – that we do not bother to question it. We pay lip service to the question, but always behind the question ‘Who am I?’ lies the certainty that I am something. So the question ‘Who am I?’ becomes ‘What sort of thing am I?’ We can never hear the answer because we are asking the wrong question.
All we want are answers, but it is realising the importance of the question that is necessary; of understanding the question, of asking the right question. The answers are all there, in the chants, in the sutras, but they are useless unless we can really ask the question. In grasping after an answer we let go of the question; we go into the dokusan room to ask ‘Is this the right answer?’
The frustration of the koans is that one wants to give an answer, but the koan is pointing to the question. Understanding the question is having the answer. One can only understand the question if one has the answer. There is no before and after with question and answer, no separation.
Questioning takes us beyond the fixed form of the self, the ‘I am something’. Answers inevitably take us to something. Or one could say that all we can accept as an answer is something. This is the trap of words. We can’t hear the answer because it is tied up in words. It can be tied up very nicely, very simply, but still tied up: ‘true self is no self, our own self is no self.’ We have to get the question, and not just in words, to unlock the answer.