Wednesday, October 29, 2008


This Japanese scroll calligraphy of Bodhidharm...Image via Wikipedia
To live is to truly enjoy the great mysterious adventure! We have a body that moves, senses the universe, thinks and speculates, imagines realms which can never be touched and it all happens with no volition, all by itself. The fascination is beyond understanding, yet we take it all for granted without giving it a second thought. What moves? Senses? Thinks? Imagines? And can never be touched? Whatever it is that functions in these ways has no name to ever adequately contain its meaning. IT is transcendent to description.

Many enlightened beings have pondered this matter and come up short. The founder of ZenBodhidharma—saw it this way... “The buddha is your real body, your original mind. This mind is not outside the material body of four elements. Without this mind we can’t move. The body [by itself] has no awareness. Like a plant or stone, the body has no nature. So how does it move? It’s the mind that moves.” Huineng (sixth patriarch of Zen) saw it the same way with his famous observation about the movement of a flag. One monk argued it was the wind which moved the flag. Another said no, it was the flag alone which moved. Huineng corrected them both and noted that it was neither. It was the mind which moved. Nagarjuna sliced this matter in a variety of ways but one of my favorites is his poem about walking which ends this way... “These moving feet reveal a walker, but did not start him on his way. There was no walker prior to departure. Who was going where?”

The mind moves: That is an amazing observation! And of course it makes sense even if we don’t give it a second thought. Thinking about it doesn’t alter the function. The mind moves independently of thought yet thought is absolutely dependent upon the transcendent mind which can never be found and never described. Our mind is with us when we enter this world, stays with us while we are here and remains when we are gone. My mind is not “mine” and your mind is not “yours.” Mind is beyond possession. In fact the Buddha said that there is no person—neither you nor me—to possess anything. The person we imagine our self to be is just that: “Imagined.” We all fabricate this entity called an ego in order to have a sense of self. Who the heck are we anyway? We all have the same wish: to truly know who we are. That question seems endemic to our existence—To know who we are.

After spending 9 years doing zazen facing a blank wall, Bodhidharma met with Emperor Wu and was asked “Who stands before me?” Bodhidhrama answered, “I don’t know.” Nine years and he didn’t know. Was he dense? Not at all. The reason he answered as he did—“I don’t know”—is that who we truly are can’t be known. Our perceptual faculties can’t go there. What we can perceive is concrete and objective. I can see a rock. I can see my own skin and a picture I fabricate (which goes by the name of “self-image”) but it is not my skin, nor the fabricated image, which is me. Who am I? I don’t know. But then it isn’t necessary that I do know. My knowing doesn’t alter my existence at all. Without knowing what, who or how, I still move, sense, think and imagine. And it all happens without my volition.

There are really only two things which must be known:

1. Who I am not—Not an imagined, independent self who exists in isolation without connectivity to life, and
2. That whoever I am, however inadequately defined, it is no different from you or the Buddha. We are indiscriminately connected in the vast and boundless realm we call “life”.

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