The habitual way of experiencing

I was looking through a list of music on Albert’s computer, when in the midst of all the composers and music titles I saw ‘Teisho’. When I opened the file I found fifteen teishos, or ‘fifteen songs’ as they were designated on that site.  I do not know whether they are on the Centre website.  I have listened to a great many of those for doing the blog, and I did not recognize the one I went on to listen to.  They did not have any teisho numbers or the year they were given, and I do not know why they were there amongst the music.  But directly I started listening to one, I knew this was the next blog.

Thanks to one of our members, I can now give the teisho number: 1056, year 2006.


One of the main errors people make when working on Mu or ‘Who am I?’ is trying to know Mu, or know who or what they are.  And there is obviously a dualism here -that which knows and that which is known. It is precisely this which is the cause of our suffering. We have koans because it is utterly impossible to talk about the truth, about reality, about what we are.  Even that statement, ‘what you are’, creates a division.

You are sometimes asked when going into dokusan, ‘who came through the door?’ And you look for something which corresponds to ‘who’ and something that corresponds to the word ‘door’.  Everything is broken up, separate. Everything seems to be separate from the rest because we have the words that refer to them as separate. The question ‘who came through the door?’ is urging you to move out of this habitual way of experiencing

One could say there have been three creations: the creation of matter, the creation of life and the creation of consciousness.  And consciousness is dependent upon language, on words.  With words a whole universe was created.  But at the same time words stifle, they freeze, they turn everything to stone. So how can words approximate the great mystery of being?

When you ask ‘Who am I?’ do not look for an answer. Any answer will enclose, freeze, will box in the truth.  You are asked to demonstrate the koan, because in a demonstration it is possible to keep the fluidity and livingness of the situation. Unfortunately many people try to convey with the demonstration what they have already worked out in words or thoughts. The demonstration then becomes a kind of sign language.  Asking the question ‘who am I?’ is like using a blow torch to melt down blocks of stone.

Mu negates it all, Mu is No.  It is essentially ‘no thing.’   What do we mean by ‘a thing’?  To dwell on this alone could be a life time’s meditation.  What is there beyond something and nothing? One must struggle to stay between and not to slip one way or the other.  A monk asked Joshu, ‘Does a dog have Buddha nature?’ and Joshu said ‘No.’   Yet another time someone asked him the same question and he said ‘Yes.’   He is obviously not using yes and no in the way that we usually use them. When Hakuin says, ‘True self is no self’  he is not speaking of an absence.  If you were not already the answer you could not even raise the question. This is what is different about this question that has no answer to the question that has an answer.   An answer lies outside.  The question that has no answer is that to which you are the answer. In other words, to work with the question ‘who am I?’ you must start from home, you must start from the truth that you are.  The question is therefore how can I enrich the appreciation of that I am.  The only way you can do this is to enrich the question. The question must be a natural, authentic, original question.  It must be your question.  To struggle to find an answer just nullifies the whole practice.  Find the question, which has been buried under all kinds of projects, all kinds of dreams, opinions, prejudices; buried under the whole of one’s life, because the question is painful, uncomfortable, irritating, disturbing, sometimes frightening.

We are talking about your question, not a Zen question.  A Zen question is neutral, it has no emotive content. How can you come home to the question, because doing so is coming home to yourself.  Coming home to being. Hakuin said to practice one needs great faith, but one is great faith.  He said one needs great doubt, but one’s whole life is doubt. He said we need great perseverance, but perseverance itself is life, it is going on.    We are so used to looking outside ourself, it is habitual.  To live a life in society we strive to be objective, to face up to things and not get carried away.  We need language, we need words, thoughts and concepts. We need projects.  And we have been seduced into believing that this is all there is. We have fallen asleep. We think we are something.

When it says in the Diamond Sutra, ‘arouse the mind without resting it on anything’, it is inviting you to let go of the basic thought of something.  Wake up, sleep is the sleep of something. The world is something, I am something, everything is something.   There is no awakening, there is no knowing, there is no being, there is no truth, there is no reality, there is no thing. This is the Prajna Paramita. It is because nothing is given, because there is no bedrock, no fundamental security, that you are free.

The way to truth lies through the destruction of the false, the illusory, of that which has been taken for granted. To destroy the false you must question your deepest beliefs. But you cannot do this with a hammer, you must use a scalpel, and do it gently, intimately, lovingly, patiently.

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1 Response to The habitual way of experiencing

  1. Victor Krynicki says:

    Thank you for continuing to enter posts on this blog. This teisho summary has many helpful and excellent pointers — such as making it clear how much time I’ve wasted searching for “the answer” to Mu, and looking at Mu as one more project to accomplish.

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