Student: Our whole practice is about unconditional love, how “Everything is the Buddha,” and how all of life is acceptable to Life, yes?
Teacher: Well, unconditional love is what we practice.
Student: So if nothing is outside of Life, would it be fair to say that egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate is also Life? To transcend all dualities, all separation, wouldn’t we have to accept the voices as part of Life?
Teacher: It’s my favorite question not to answer! Let me ask you this: does accepting the voices as a part of Life assist you to transcend them? Does it move you away from suffering?
Student: It might stop me from feeling bad when I get identified. If the voices are part of Life, then when I am identified that’s not a mistake either.
Teacher: What has you believing that identification is a mistake?
Student: Are you saying that it’s an illusion that there are mistakes or that what has me believing in mistakes is the illusion?
Teacher: What is your experience?
Student: If I’m believing it, it’s real, and part of Life? It has to be.
Teacher: Have you heard the famous interchange between Bodhidharma and his student Huike?
Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified your mind.”
If there is nothing wrong, then how can the voices be something we need to overcome? If nothing is outside of Life, isn’t Mara the Buddha? If everything is Divine, does God condone evil?
It seems these inquiries are inevitable at some stage of Practice. Why do we ask these questions? Do we have a sincere desire to know the answer? Perhaps we want proof that our faith is well-founded. Perhaps we want irrefutable, logical Truth. Perhaps we crave the comfort of a certainty that’s beyond all doubt, an Absolute that cannot be impeached.
We may experience frustration when we ask this kind of “fundamental” question in all sincerity and receive a non-answer. Often, the Practice response is a faint, compassionate, and somewhat indulgent smile, accompanied by encouragement that we can see is a deflection! We retreat and stew in the impotent energy of being denied, however that manifests—discouraged, resentful, furious, fed up, determined, or curious.
When we read the stories of the Buddha’s life, we see how similar we are to every spiritual aspirant that has walked the Path before us. We relate to those disciples who speculated that the Buddha didn’t answer questions such as “why does suffering exist” or “why does the ego exist” because he himself did not know the answer. When Malunkyaputra, in frustrated fury, threatened to leave the Buddha’s side if he did not answer his questions on “the nature of the Self” and “the existence of the Divine,” the Buddha supposedly smiled and gently replied, “When you took to the spiritual life, did I ever promise you I would answer these questions?”
The Buddha went on to say, “What do I not teach? Whatever is fascinating to discuss, divides people against each other but has no bearing on putting an end to sorrow. What do I teach? Only what is necessary to take you to the other shore.”
Debating such things as duality, the existence of the ego, the nature of good and evil can be fascinating. But we can see how theological differences in the answers produce the deep divides of religious factions and warring nations, and we’ve experienced within ourselves the carnage of battle between one voice of ego and another, each advocating its position.
In the practice of transcending duality, it feels important to know if the ego is Life or not Life. In the practice of unconditional love, it feels necessary to extend kindness to the voices. But is it?
Not getting an answer when we ask such questions is a clue that we are asking in a way that’s not helpful in moving us towards what we seek.
A “Zen response” is meant to confound the questioner’s beliefs, not impart knowledge. As Alan Watts suggests, its “design is…to get rid of a false problem with which you are wrestling so that the problem will disappear, and produce an ‘ah ha!’ reaction in you of ‘Oh but I see! Now it’s clear!’”
In that moment of clarity, we see that what asks the question is what we are trying to transcend. Ego, asking if ego is real or a part of Life or acceptable to Life, is simply egocentricity maintaining itself. Something other than ego is required to startle us into the answer, from which the absurdity of the question is revealed—not the conditioned sense of “absurd” that mocks and judges but a delighted laughter arising from an awareness of the absence of that to which the question is important!
Conditioning bamboozles us into giving our attention to the content of the question—the reality of hearing voices, the irrefutable evidence of a self that lives life, the memory of having a history in existence. How can that not be true? But, if we’re not distracted by the question, would we have an awareness of life that is outside the framework of conditioned mind? Why debate the reality of a voice in the head if it stands in the way of something more?
Yes, we hear voices. Yes, we get identified. Yes, our practice is to choose not to attend to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. Yes, our language sounds as if it creates a preference for a Light Room versus a dark room. But nothing in practice advocates a choice for freedom because there is something wrong with suffering. In fact, only that which creates suffering would condemn it as wrong!
All the Buddha said was suffering exists, it has a cause, and it’s possible not to suffer.
As our practice deepens and the process that divides life into what is and is not Life gets planed away, our awareness grows more and more subtle. Our experience of “reality” moves beyond conditioned mind’s wildest imaginings; we drop into a place where identification and personality dance with awareness and nonseparation.
Life, we discover, has no absolute answers or promises of certainty, just a delighted and spontaneous laugh at its own futile quest to limit and know what is infinitely mysterious and beyond knowing!
For the next 48 hours, through the magic of laughter, practice confounding ego’s desire to know, to be serious, and to understand. Walk out and witness a smile appear as you take in the mysterious perfection of a flower, the enchanting music of a tiny bird, the majestic movement of clouds across the sky, the towering wisdom of an ancient tree. Feel yourself bowing in deep Gassho, literally or metaphorically, at the dawning realization of the oneness of All That Is, that is “you,” mirrored in that experience. Watch with delight the disappearance of the illusion of separation and the absence of the desire to know.
Record and Listen.