Zen always says: Die! Be killed!
Why? Because this little agent of separation called “me” – this identity that creates itself and in doing so creates its own separation – this crumb of distinction and isolation, can be the source of all germinating and fructifying goodness, but only if it falls to the ground and dies.
In other words, the problem contains the solution.
Why is it a problem? Just look around. The essence of “me” is that “I” am separate. I define myself by my contradistinction to all else. “Me” is meaningless if “me” is not alone, distinct, separate. Having made myself, and in doing so made myself separate, I then oppose all else. And you get Gaza, and the Ukraine, and Boko Haram kidnapping children, and all the rest of the human catastrophe.
Are we going to hell in a handbasket? I don’t think so: we’re already there and have been for quite some time. The handbasket, and hell itself, are none other than the “me”, the fabrication that we weave out of thin air then believe in.
But “me” is also the solution.
It shows us precisely what we have to do: just one thing: drop “me.” Or rather, be dropped, be forgotten.
As Dogen says: to study Buddhism is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be awakened by all things. That is, to let ourselves go, to let ourselves be dissolved by the Dharma, by the practice, by our koan, by our breath, by walking, eating, standing, loving, hating, crying, laughing – and having been dissolved, to discover a real identity, unseparated from all things.
Separation was only ever a dream, a nightmare, an imaginary hell. That’s all Zen says: wake up from the dream and come home.
Wake up safe at home in our beds: the bed of all beings, all things, the ultimate sangha from which we truly never were separated to begin with. That’s Zen.
And then what do we do? Well, maybe the message of Zen could be summed up like this: Everything is OK – and we have work to do.
By Henry Shukman.
Image: by Cherie Manifest and used with her permission.