The only difference between me and a self-righteous asshole is that I’m just fuckin’ around. The only difference between me and someone who’s totally bonkers is none.
I admit, I had expectations when I began practicing. I expected to become some kind of quiet, warm, easy-breezy wise man. Instead, what’s been uncovered is some kind of twisted Lewis Carroll version of a Zen monk. I’m a Buddhist super-villain, a Dharma troll. Could it ever really have gone any other way?
That quiet shining
space within – silent laughter,
an audible fart.
Far from transforming me into some kind of all-knowing, aggressively tranquil mountain sage, practice has succeeded in polishing this turd I call “myself” that’s been here from the get-go. I have gained nothing, but I lost most of the pain and fear. Lost the defense mechanisms that whispered in my ears, “You’re not good enough, you need to be someone else.”
Because then the madness laughs back and replies, “Haha! Wtf are you anyway? You don’t even have a name-tag! Silly little clouds!”
People are either inexperienced, misled, or have an armchair fetish if they take the not-self as some kind of nihilistic absence, or as an ego that comes and goes. That absence is present; it’s there. It’s real. It’s what allows such imaginary perceptions like real and unreal to appear.
How could the Buddha said of himself, “I am unborn and undying,” if he took not-self as some kind of nothing? He would’ve just said, “There is no self, it doesn’t exist.” Or if the took it to mean, “When we die, that’s it, lights out,” then he just would’ve said that, there’d be no need for the colorful language or fanfare. Get real, stop fucking about trying to change the Dharma so that it’ll fit into your little bubble universe and let it pop that bubble instead.
This is wild work; feral and undomesticated. Zen is a Trojan horse. It adopts the language and customs of the cultures it comes across so that it can slip past our defenses and destroy our delusions. It’s like a defective condom or a placebo masquerading as a birth control pill. But if it’s perverted into some kind of barren or sterilized scientism, then it’s not gonna do any good.
Zen laughs, and breathes, it dances and sits motionless. It strikes out and embraces. It cuts and soothes, compromises and stands firm. It uses a thousand words to help wake us up but never says a damn thing.
Zen is, “just another word for nothing left to lose.” It’s synonymous with our True Nature, this nature being nothing other than the mind empty of itself, meditative, bright and clear. It’s always been empty, an open dance floor full of shifting light and shadows. Turning on all the lights or turning them all off has the same result, offers the same insight.
But this isn’t an invitation to be an asshole, to cause harm to others. People cause pain when they’re in pain; people incite hatred, fear, and greed when they’re hateful, fearful, and greedy. The trust is that, once all of these layers are peeled away or seen through and we are our unhindered selves, we are benevolent. We are kind, generous, mindful, patient, and easily satisfied.
But your personality doesn’t change into something else. In fact, you might notice that it resembles the types of people you’ve always been drawn to. Why are we drawn to certain personalities? Because we sense that they’re like us, either overtly or as some recessive characteristic that we can’t quite bring out into the open.
Practice seems to bring it out into the open. Because when we no longer try to be anyone in particular; when we no longer crave satisfaction or depend on others to make us happy; when we shrug off everything and slip into that soft invisible garment of our bright, silent True Mind, there’s nothing to hinder these latent characteristics from maturing. We’ve stepped out of our own way, we’ve left the building.
It just so happens that I’m the Cheshire Cat; the Mad Hatter; the hookah smoking caterpillar. And I’m Alice. What I’m not is the White Rabbit or the Queen of Hearts. Those are the shadows of incessant craving. The insight is that it’s all Wonderland, it’s play. At the end of the day, wisdom is just being aware of one’s ignorance, and mindfulness is illuminating delusions.
If you are constantly aware of how confused you are, you’re sure to stay on the right track.