Investigation of no-self


I’m at a funny (funny = strange, not funny = amusing) place in my practice. I’m working to investigate the self, the “I” we all perceive. I expect that eventually this will lead me to an attainment of emptiness. The difficulty is to sit without wanting to reach a goal. I am struggling to investigate this “I” without having any focus on getting to the bottom of it.

This is “funny” because I believe that I know how to do this — that my training over the past year has prepared me for this stage — but at the same time, I have no idea what to do. Our instructions in the Kwan Um school are to ask “What am I?” and reply “Don’t know.” I asked a Zen master about this recently: If I’m asking and answering a question, I’m using words, and therefore, I am thinking. Is this correct?

He said sometimes thinking is necessary. And I experienced one of those “Aaahhh” moments.

Skillful means, yes? There are no shortcuts in Zen practice. You can’t jump-start to the thinking part before you have learned how not to think, to sit without thinking, and not to attach to thinking.

Still, this is damned difficult! Also, I have found that I am really distracted when I have a head cold, and I’ve just gone through my second head cold of the new year. I’m not usually one to get sick, so I’m frustrated by that, and doubly frustrated by my poor concentration. But everything changes, and the cold symptoms will be gone soon, and presumably my ability to focus will improve.


(For a post related to illness, see Meditating on Sudafed at the blog Dharma Folk.)


4 responses

  1. I don’t want to get too technical here, and perhaps you could read my blog today by Dahui on the same subject as your post. But it isn’t really about ‘not thinking’ it is more like ‘before thinking.’

    We perceive reality by filering everything through our congnitive thought processes. So, before we percieve we have already filtered it. There is a way of perception, one that we are all born with but lose connection with because of our thinking, that allows us to percieve reality directly.

    This is a subtle disclaimer between, ‘not thinking’ and ‘beforethinking’ but for me the thoughts are still there, they just don’t preceed the perception. This is how we don’t attach to our thougths. We always have them, yet when we wake up to the present, we don’t believe in them so strongly.

    It is difficult to explain this because we all experience and wake up a bit differently, but a skillfull teacher will always keep you pointed in the right direction.

    I hope I haven’t made a mess of your idea here, or maybe I do. Look it is simple, just pay attention to this very moment, always and everywhere. Don’t worry about your thoughts, just don’t pay attention to them as they come and go and focus on this very moment. The thoughts are there, just don’t attach to them and give them life. Give your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind life. You are already there, you just don’t realize it.

  2. Over the last 20 years, I notice that my own ideas about getting something from practice have pretty much fallen away. Or, more truthfully, any conscious ideas about what might occur.

    Perhaps the best I can offer is my encouragement to persist in your training. It will change, from day to day, and also from year to year. Right now you may find yourself wanting something from your practice. Over time, perhaps you won’t want anything. But, even if you do find yourself wanting something, then you can look into it.

    Zen Master Wu Bong once said that the most important thing in practice is to try – he didn’t say anything about attaining something like emptiness, clear mind, or enlightenment. Just try.

  3. Thank you both, Paul and Barry. Zen Master Bon Haeng once said:

    “True confidence is completely accepting your not-knowing. It’s accepting that no one knows and understanding that this is okay. When you do this, your universe becomes bigger. But when you take one idea, formulate something, and become attached to it, your universe shrinks. So let your universe become large. Let your sitting be without boundaries, and a good answer will appear all by itself.”

    “Before thinking mind” and “not thinking mind” … hm … don’t make “same” or “different,” yes?