Since my last post I have been reflecting more on the question ”Who am I?” or better phrased “What is the nature of my being?”. I have been looking at some of the teachings from the Zen Buddhist tradition. What I like about these teachings is that they focus not so much on the theory of Buddhism but on the direct experience of what is true about the world. I heard a Zen teacher explain that Zen follows the action of the Buddha. Buddha became enlightened by sitting under the Bodhi tree, he explained, and in the practice of Zen we follow his example to realize the truth.
What I like about Zen is how it talks about the direct experience of what is true, looking at reality freshly and openly so we can see what truly is. Normally I spend most of my life in the past or the future. Most of what I experience gets colored by my past experiences and memories as I label, judge and analyze. I spend a lot of time thinking planning and scheming how have a happy life. Unfortunately I tend to get lost in these thoughts and miss the direct experience of life. Trying to understand things and planning one’s life is necessary but if you miss the present that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater! The teachings of Zen emphasize being in the present and experiencing life freshly and directly.
Here are some quotes from a wonderful book by the great Zen master Suzuki Roshi titled Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. He used to describe the practice of Zen as cultivating “beginner’s mind”, which he explains as follows:
“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” (p. 21)
A few pages further he gives a profound example of how we experience ourselves in meditation, called zazen in the Zen tradition:
“When we practice zazen our mind always follows our breathing. When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. We say “inner world” or “outer world” but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, “I breath.” The “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves, that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing; no “I,” no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.” (p. 29)
There is a blog with transcripts of the teachings given by Suzuki Roshi on the website of the San Francisco Zen center and also there are wonderful videos of some his teachings that have recently bee restored and made available on YouTube.