Transcription of talk given June 5, 2007
Where is your true home? How do I realize my true home? This is a koan, a problem that we are faced with as we engage in zen practice. Each of us, I think, as we move through this world find ourselves feeling, from time to time, out of place. Each of us, I think, spends a great deal of time and energy in our lives looking for this place where we feel like we belong. There is a term for young people traveling around “looking to find themselves”, searching for a place to call home.
The fundamental teaching of Buddhism is that at once all things in this vast universe are one. This moment has as its content all things: people, objects, plants, animals, insects, stones, flowers. All things in this vast universe are one.
Each of us, as we grow as we develop, we begin to fixate, we begin to identify things that we like and that we don’t like. We begin to identify things that make us feel at ease or comfortable and things which we find unpleasant. Fixating these sensations, fixating these preferences, we begin to formulate something, we begin to talk about something, and we begin to refer to it as “I”.
Now these situations are completely transitory, momentary, and yet we fixate them as if they were lasting, permanent, and begin to make statements like, “I’m this kind of person” or “I’m that kind of person”. “I like this and I don’t like that.” “This is what I do and this is what I certainly don’t do.” As we are young, when we are young, this starts off very simply. But as we grow older and older, this concept of a self, this ego identity, becomes more and more complex, and we spend more and more time identifying it, clarifying it and fixating it. But as we do this, as we more and more clarify and fixate this thing that “I am” we begin to find that in an equal amount we become more and more isolated; we begin to become more and more distant, lost, disconnected.
But this is not a fixed state, and in fact the teaching is that this doesn’t even reflect the true state. This idea, this concept of a self, this defined and fixed thing—the ego—is fundamentally empty. When we begin to investigate this thing that we have taken as being so solid, we can find nothing to lay our hands on. What is it that makes up the self? Where is this quality of permanence? It’s not in our thoughts; it’s not in our beliefs; it’s not in our feelings; all of these things change from moment to moment. Even our bodies, it’s said, every cell replaced every seven years. So even in this physical being we find nothing permanent, nothing lasting, nothing fixed, solid. And yet, as we go through our lives we make all of our decisions, all of our judgments, based upon the existence of this thing we call “I”.
As we begin to practice, as we begin to enter into this moment, engaging in this simple activity of breathing, we find that the form of this practice gives rise to these thoughts, we find ourselves coming up nose to nose with these ideas about “self”, these preferences, these choices: “I don’t like to bow. Walking in step is difficult and uncomfortable. Chanting makes me self-conscious. Sitting still makes me uneasy.” If we are able to step outside of this situation, we see that this practice is something utterly simple: to sit, to breathe, to walk. But the challenging aspect of this practice is that we’re asked to manifest harmoniously with the environment that we find ourselves in, to do this with others. And in practicing this, in trying this, we find that we’re all over the place; the simple activity of walking in step becomes a magnificent challenge—why?
We find that with each breath, with each step, we slip, we slip out of this moment which presents itself to us, into the world of our thinking mind, into the world of “I”; we separate and fixate “I” in distinction from everything around us. This habit is something that we rehearse and that we engage in over and over again in our lives, constantly creating separation, creating walls, calling things inside and outside, self and other, and we buy it, we believe it completely, to the degree where we would even defend it as being something which is good. And yet, as we go through our lives we find that deep within us we feel alone; we can feel lost, homeless.
The teaching of Zen is that in this moment, already, you stand in your true home. This very moment has as its content all things; we are not separate. Separation exists as a function of the mind. In this moment all we need to do is simply let go of this idea of a self which stands in distinction to all things, to let go and to experience this moment as complete, to experience the vast potential of this moment, which is nothing other than our selves.
KATZ!!!(sharp shout) This is a technique that has been used for centuries. In this moment of the shout where are you? In this moment of the shout each of us enters into this moment fully without reservation. Immediately, upon this experience we separate, break apart, “ahh, what was that;” we begin thinking again. But in the moment that I shouted where was “I”?
Each of us goes about this world looking outside, looking for home, looking for love, looking for a place to belong. If we are able to enter into this moment just as it is, this moment which has as its content our life, we find that there is nothing lacking, there is nothing outside. If we are able to penetrate this, even for a moment, if we are able to let go of our fixated self, we can understand, we can experience, we can realize, that in this moment there is no other place to be. We stand and always stand in our true home.
The first step, the first thing that we need to do when we come to engage in practice, is to investigate this, to become aware. Through this practice of simply paying attention, following the breath, we become aware of this sensation, of this feeling of being separate. We can become aware of the situations, the experiences that we have, that bring it about. But in practice, rather than running from it, rather than going and trying to find that thing that’s going to make us feel better, we come to sit and we turn to face this experience; “What is it? What is it that makes me feel separate, alone?”
So, as you continue to engage in your practice, contemplate this question; “How do I realize my true home?”