"Your desires are not what you really are. Not even close.
Your thoughts aren't the real you, either. They're just electrical energy bouncing around in your brain. If you do lots of zazen you often end up going for longer and longer periods where very few thoughts occur. The brain goes quiet and Descartes' old axiom "I think therefore I am" makes no sense anymore because you're not thinking, yet existence still is. (But be patient with this: most folks have to do zazen many years before anything like this happens.)
What is existence then? Sit zazen and see for yourself.
Your opinions and preferences are not you, either. A famous Zen poem called "Faith in Mind" begins, "It's easy to follow the Buddhist way, just avoid picking and choosing." Opinions, preferences, and other such mental crap are just thoughts that have been reinforced so often they've become unconscious and nearly unavoidable habits.
Your personality isn't you, either. It's just a collection of very deeply embedded opinions and preferences. Again, if you do enough selfzazen there will come times when even your personality ceases to function - at least in the old familiar way. Things you'd taken for granted as unique to you are seen as facets common throughout the universe.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Everyone has a self-image, an ego. You have one, I have one, Nishijima has one, Dogen, Nagarjuna, and Guatama Buddha had one, too. The difference is the way a Buddhist views his or her self-image. When a person who understands Buddhism uses the word "I", the word is just a convenient way of locating something. The word I is used by Buddhists in the same way people use any other designating phrase, the phrase "Les Paul guitar" for instance. You don't have any really strong attachments to the guitar (well, if it's a Les Paul, you may - but that's not what I'm talking about). You know it's just a bunch of wood held together with screws, and that the wood had its origins as parts of trees, and that the tuning keys, frets, and screws were once parts of rocks in the ground. The guitar will come apart eventually (and it'll come apart really quick if you take it to a hardcore gig at a redneck bar in Dover, Ohio). But none of its components will ever really disappear. They just change form. And though they don't disappear, there comes a time when they can no longer be called a guitar. After this point you can never reassemble that Les Paul guitar no matter how hard you try. The thing that the word "I" refers to is just like that.
It's very difficult to reach this kind of understanding when it comes to your sense of self. We've been taught implicitly since birth that our "self" is something fundamental and important and real. But our self-image is nothing other than the sum total of those particular things about universal human nature we've chosen to emphasize in our own lives. Some teachings like to differentiate between "self" spelled with a little "s" and "Self" with a big "S", but this just obscures the problem with unnecessary complications. No matter how you spell it, self is an illusion."
Monday, January 21, 2008
Brad Warner is a Zen Master, a punk rocker, and works for the Japanese producers of "Ultraman". He is also the author of "Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, and the Truth About Reality". I like the way he defines who "I"...well...is.