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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 71 We are embedded. Whether we recognize it or not, our practice is always embedded in something. For many—perhaps most—people reading this, your practice is embedded, or at least sourced, in some so-to-speak traditional tradition that came from Asia to the West within the last seventy years or so. American culture encourages us not to take that kind of tradition too seriously, to look instead for that inner voice, that inner self, to be ourselves at all costs. But, as all Buddhist teachers like to ask: Who is this? Nobody works in isolation. Even the forest hermit—perhaps especially the forest her- mit—has a context much larger than her own life. To believe there is an inner voice, an inner self—this delusion is the curse of the author, an author far more invasive than the author Barthes is talking about, the author who writes not words on a page but the book of self. This inner voice continually telling us who and what and why we are, where we come from, where we are going, and what we should do about it, this author of our self-concept— guess what? There’s no there there. The notion of self as collage, as particles tem- porarily glued together and coming apart, is basic to Buddhism—this is what the five skandhas are about. The notion of innumerable beings reflecting and being reflected by each other—this is Indra’s net. The notion of the very nature of being as mixed, fluid, without boundaries, not resting on any one thing—this is codependent origination. In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha says, “However many beings there are... I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated. And why not? ... No one can be called a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a self, or who creates the perception of a being, a life, or a soul” (translation by Red Pine). Easy to say. Hard to do. A friend of mine has a condition that might cause him to go blind. “If I go blind, I will kill myself,” he says, with passion and great sincerity. When things go well, we think we are immune. When things go badly, we hit the limits of our self-concept and are overcome. Somebody says something and suddenly it is as if our head is in a vise, being squeezed from different directions at once. We cannot see what is in front of us. All we can see is our fear, our anger, our delusion. We think this is the normal human condition. We think there is an author. We think this author is us. And we believe everything the author writes. A long time ago, I was on a solo retreat when I suddenly felt possessed by a demon. The demon was inside me, looking out through my eyes. There was nothing flashy, no sensory hallucination, just a sudden realization: there is a demon inside me who has taken over and is looking out through my eyes. I was terrified. I promised myself that if I woke up the next morning with this demon inside me, I would check myself into a mental hospital. I kept up my practice—what else could I do? And then, suddenly, while doing walking meditation on my little porch, my view changing as I moved past one tree and then another, I realized: nobody looks out through my eyes. The world comes in through them. The demon vanished. Ding dong, the witch is dead. Ding dong, the author is dead. Ding dong, there never was an author in the first place. And so in my fourth inter- view on my first retreat, I suddenly realized: this teacher is trying to teach me something. I should try to learn it. I gave the answer I knew he wanted, without worrying about whose answer it was. I stopped, if only for a moment, trying to write my own life. The texts are meant to embody a community’s truth. They are not supposed to emanate from an individual mind.