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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2015 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 67 of inner peace arose. There was just quietness, like nothing I’d experienced before. It was wonder- ful. I was out in the countryside, walking up and down on a gravel road. With this perception was an inner voice—the chatterbox who likes to have an opinion about everything—commenting, “There’s just awareness,” or perhaps it was, “There’s just knowing.” Then a question rapidly followed: “But who’s aware?” At that point the mind dropped into a deeper, even lovelier place. I can’t remember how I reported this to the teacher, but he didn’t seem to appreciate it as a useful key for unlocking my prac- tice. Indeed, it took a long time and a lot of struggle before I recognized it for what it was. Conscious questioning as a form of meditation is nothing new. Lots of people use it as a way of directing their interest and navigating the inner journey. Asking the right question—your own ques- tion—is an important part of practice. Some of the most interesting work I do is asking questions such as “Who’s aware?” That’s an extremely interest- ing question, if it’s asked in the right way and not because I or somebody else told you to ask it. The mind is longing to ask such questions. Many people see their mind as an enemy. All they want to do is make their mind shut up, so they concentrate in pursuit of peace. It’s true that quiet- ing the mind and concentration are part of practice, but only part of it. There are other aspects as well. Maybe you can make your mind your friend—a friend that might really want to share this journey with you and has interesting contributions to make. Some teachers specifically encourage asking ques- tions. Again, we need to take care that we don’t turn this into another technique applied in a per- functory manner, but asked in the right way, at the right time, in the right direction, our heart-question will begin to tease out the tangled threads of con- tracted ego. Master Hsu Yun, the great Chinese Chan meditation master, used the technique of ask- ing Who? called in Chinese huatou, the profound question practice. When Ajahn Fun was caught up in fear in his practice, he consulted his teacher, Ajahn Mun, who didn’t just say, “Go and concen- trate on your breath.” He asked Ajahn Fun, “Who’s afraid?” Remember, these pointings to the way are not to be grasped. If they are clung to, deluded ego just builds itself yet another shelter. Don’t grasp the idea of asking the question “Who?” It’s not the mind itself that is the problem; it’s the deluded ego, self-centeredness. That’s our issue. All our energy is being gobbled up by this construction. So how do we release that energy? How do we undo it? There’s certainly a stage at which learning to bring the mind to one-pointedness, to steadiness, is needed. That’s one aspect of our training, but do we take it all the way? Not necessarily, not everybody. If the mind itself is not the problem, then maybe we need not tell it to shut up all the time. Maybe we can make friends with it and listen to it. Christians say, “Ask and ye shall be given.” When I was a Christian I used to ask all the time, but I didn’t get the results I was looking for. Only years later did I meet a Christian monk who pointed out that it mat- ters how you ask. If we’re not asking from the right place, we’re not going to get the right answer. If we are fortunate on our inner journey, we might discover our own personal question that suc- ceeds in untangling us, but we need to be careful about the energy that drives our questioning. Our questions need to be accompanied by a humble rec- ognition that we don’t know. I have a clear recollec- tion of my first year of meditation—I was applying this questioning practice but using it like a sledge- hammer attacking an enemy. That didn’t work very well; I actually became very sick. We need to ask our questions gently, respectfully, as if we were talk- ing to the Buddha. How would we talk to the Bud- dha if we met him and asked him a question? Some young monks were once talking with Ajahn Chah about original mind. He first pointed out that if you make original mind into something, that’s not really original mind. If there’s anything there at all, just throw it out. You can call it origi- nal mind if you want to, but the term, the concept “original mind,” is not what’s being pointed to. What is really original is inherently pure; there’s nothing you can say about it. If you do want to say something about it, you have to use words, but don’t get caught in the words. Ajahn Chah then posed this question: “In what is all this arising and ceasing?” You can be watching arising and ceasing all the time, but in what is it all taking place? That is a powerful question. We can be doing the tech- nique, observing arising and ceasing, but where, in what, is it happening? It’s happening in awareness, or knowingness, or whatever we choose to call it.