…it (Zen) offers us a way, a space, a practice in which to investigate just what our sense of “me” really is.
One of Buddha’s three “marks of existence” is no-self – that there is no abiding, fixed self. The sense of self so entrenched in each of us is not the permanent entity it seems. Which does not mean merely that it exists now but will one day be gone. Even right now, it is not what it seems: not the solid identifiable thing we experience it as.
One way of approaching this fact is the following: my own “me” seems so particular, specific and uniquely personal. There is only one me after all.
While that is true, at the same time the quality of my sense of self, the intuitive cluster of feelings that I have towards my “me,” is very likely quite similar to anyone else’s. Understood this way, since my “me” is essentially nothing but a sense – a consortium of associations, feelings, memories and assumptions – my “me” is very likely similar to your “me.” And all me’s are probably in the end rather similar if not – shockingly! – identical.
So to say there is only one me may mean something a bit different from what we thought…
And while it’s true that Zen offers, among other things, a path of existential enquiry into who we really are, it might be more accurate to say it offers us a way, a space, a practice in which to investigate just what our sense of “me” really is.
This enquiry manifests in two ways. First, increasing honesty and intimacy with ourselves, an expanding spaciousness around ourselves, which allows us to open up to more and more of our blind spots, learning to practice a radical self-honesty with ourselves. This spaciousness is highly therapeutic.
And second, a discovery about the real nature of our sense of self and the reality it construes around us.
Yet even so, practice may yield a further fruit still, more than either of these. There’s a place inside each of us that zazen can take us to – a place of feeling, of love, of pain, of wisdom, patience and quiet joy. It seems to know everything, to have been through everything there is to go through. It knows it all.
It’s a place of deep, great and maybe infinite comfort. It knows us so well. Maybe we should call it our heart. Or our soul.
Or the heart, the soul. It’s somehow beyond “me” yet deeply accepting of “me.” It’s a well of deep self-trust.
It’s always a great blessing to let ourselves be led to it. It’s not who we think we are; but it just may be who we really are.
And all we have to do to know its beneficence is to sit. Just sit.