On Being No One

When we’re born, we don’t know our names. Isn’t that peculiar?

We don’t know our gender, sex, race, political party, or religion. And we don’t know anyone else’s either. We’re born in a cloud of unknowing, and we spend the first part of our life in that cloud.

Then we start to see patterns in the clouds. We learn their names, and form preferences and expectations about them. We divvy them into me and not me, mine and not mine. When a pleasant pattern disappears, or an unpleasant one appears, we suffer.

Most of all, we identify some of these patterns in clouds as ourselves. So we take everything personally and we’re usually oblivious of the sky.

Chan embraces this cloud of unknowing. In many ways, we can practice well by just using our infantile self as a guideline. The practice involves setting aside, for a time, everything that we weren’t born with and then each moment as a newborn.

Then, when we lose ourselves in the method or the moment, we go back even further to who we were born. That’s Awakening, shining silence.

After that, we can just live well, there’s no need to do anything else. If we need to, we can study to smooth out the remaining rough edges in the world. Honestly, before then, most of the teachings are relatively worthless.

We can only see the finger pointing at the moon if we have our eyes open. When we open our eyes, that’s Waking Up. When we see the finger, that’s getting out of bed. When we look at the moon, that’s saying, “Good morning,” to a loved one.

But before all that, we have to completely forget ourselves for a moment. The only way to see the light is to blow out the candle. Because this light doesn’t originate from the candle. It’s your mind. Your heart.

So we sit and let the mind freeze and flow, rise and sink without giving it a glance or thought. Soon, it won’t freeze or flow, rise or sink. That’s unknowing, which is a state that’s vitally important to know.

If that doesn’t work, we can gently ask, “What is Buddha?””What is Awake?” or, “What is the light?” We can ask it over and over, focusing on it as we would the breath. Once our minds settle, then we sit in that, “What?” making the mind into a gentle question mark directed at the knower and known.

If you go that route, ask softly. It’s dangerous to use intense inquiry when there isn’t a living guide at hand. You can also combine it with a visual of the Buddha meditating, or you can visualize a light. After awhile, you’ll probably actually see it behind your eyelids as you deepen your focus and resolve.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t about letting go. It’s about seeing that we were neither holding on, nor being held onto by, anything. Instead of letting go, right intention is letting be.

If we can sit and let everything be free, we’ll see everything’s always been free.

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