Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Self and Non-Self Based Practice

January 14, 2015

The teachings are nothing but guidance, a set of instructions perhaps, for something we have to do ourselves. Which is to settle down and drop into the reality of who we are.


The reason the old masters often railed against students who went here and there picking up fag-ends of teachings, trying to get this and that piece of teaching, “as if trying to take some from a dog’s mouth,” as one old worthy put it, is that all those monks were doing was continuing to fortify the self. It’s the same today. There is an army of “spiritual seekers” who go around visiting this and that teacher—as if acquiring things (in this case teachings) and massaging their own practice to suit themselves were the point of authentic meditation.

It’s not the point at all. The teachings actually aren’t anything anyway. As the Diamond Sutra says, if you think teachings are being taught, then you’re not awake. And as Buddha himself said at the end of his life, “49 years of teaching, and I haven’t uttered a single word.”

This is the one and only point of Zen ‘teachings’—to realize for ourselves just what Buddha meant when he said this. If we get that, we get it all.

The teachings are nothing but guidance, a set of instructions perhaps, for something we have to do ourselves. Which is to settle down and drop into the reality of who we are.

There is nothing to acquire. On the other hand, there is something to lose. No amount of rushing around from teacher to teacher, this center to that center, workshop to workshop, thinking we’re acquiring more and more pieces of teaching, is going to help. All we’re doing is continuing to be driven by the very same old self that is causing all the trouble in the world in the first place.

Of course if this is what we’re doing, then fine, so be it. Perhaps that’s just what we need to be doing for now. There is surely a place for self-based practice. Most of us have no choice but to start with it. But still, it’s not authentic Zen. It’s merely another form of the self that picks and chooses doing what it does. We’re still in the thrall of the very illusion our practice is intended to liberate us from. Nevertheless, even then, without even being aware of it, we are surely inching closer and closer to the truth of Mahayana Buddhism – of the one great vehicle and refuge.

* * *

Here’s another perspective on this: in earlier stages of practice I used to be amazed by how much my teachers seemed to believe in me. Now it’s obvious they would. All people, all of us, all beings, are so deeply to be believed in. The part not to believe in was never real to begin with. In fact it was never there to begin with.

* * *


I’ve known this song since I was a young boy and it was a new hit, and always loved it. I used to think it meant something like: don’t worry about it, don’t sweat it, let it go, just let it be. Maybe it does. But it can also mean: let it be. Allow it to flourish. Accept it – whatever it is – whole-heartedly, without reserve. The opposite to resisting or objecting.

How hard that can be. Especially if someone has hurt us, for example. To ‘let it be’ then, can’t but have a quality of forgiveness in it. And to forgive, as Islam says, is to be forgiven – by God. Maybe that’s a little like dropping our opinions pro and con, as the Shinjinmei advises, being absolved, and rejoining the Way.

Image: Shadow, Public Domain Pictures, CC0 Public Domain, from

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