Saturday, March 12, 2011

I Am, or Am I?

On Sunday mornings, the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia invites people to join in meditative practices, as well as holds group (sangha) discussions regarding various aspects of Buddhist thought and philosophy. Last week, after the traditional first-hour, the sangha, led by a senior teacher (when Ven. Losang Samten is away) in the Introduction to Buddhism series, learned of and discussed Vipaśyanā. This form of meditation practice is considered "insight" meditation where one thinks critically of the nature of reality, asking, "Who am I?" and "What is Reality?" While the question must not plague and weigh down the mind, it surfaces in daily life, bobbing up, like little fish in water.

In the last several minutes of the discussion, Jeffrey Carr's summary statement was inspiring when he said, "You only exist in relation to your experiences." What a profound statement- not so much profound in the words as it becomes when one analyzes the breadth of such a notion.

You only exist in relation to your experiences.

Not only will the meaning confound the truth seeker, it opens the clichéd Pandora's Box of self-inquiry. Certainly, people have delved, introspectively, into this realm as it pertains to self identity and the self in relation to the surrounding universe, for millennia. In building upon Jeff's comment, one may see that the individual's own experiences only exist, then, in relation to another person's experiences. If there is only one person, with no other existing beings, does the person exist? No. How can he?

This is reminisce of the ceremonial native North American sweat lodge experience where cool air ceases to be. One enters the lodge, fully knowing the idea of "fresh air"-- air that moves and flows around us and through us. Gradually, within the lodge, steam grows. There is no crisp flow that shocks one back into the safety and comfort of control of self and Ego, there is just steam. Thicker and thicker, it grows over many hours, and soon all one knows is steam and heat. It becomes what "is". There is no dichotomy, nothing to compare "this" to "that". Cool does not exist. Did it ever? One crawls from the claustrophobic womb of the lodge, the breath is taken and again, one remembers the meaning of "cool, crisp air".

From a sociological perspective, one observation is to extend this to greater society, recognizing that a universal interdependence exists. I cannot exist without I (you, me, they, we, he, she, they, us). Therefore, from a psychological perspective, one may also observe that because of this truth, it becomes a matter of life and death of the self that one have the ability to express his or her own life experiences.

It's no wonder that people act-out, demanding recognition of the self-- it brings material, physical validation to the very existence of the self.

This is me. This is you.

From the perspective of human maturation and growth, one finds it nearly impossibile to move beyond freeing that self that requires attention and validation and into a place of peace unless one finds satisfaction in believing he or she exists. If not reconciled, the self will continue to seek satisfaction and contentment in the world-at-large.

How one, then, identifies this lack of satisfaction determines that person's interaction with the rest of the "selves" that simultaneously exist alongside the individual. We are afraid. We are hungry. We are angry. We are love. We are compassion. We are peace.

So, what are you?

In 1999, I wrote a poem in response to my friend, Kelly, to whom I was attempting to convey that because of this interdependence we all all have with each other, one can then free one's self in saying that the "self" can then be defined to encompass all that exists. It has been published on the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun's website for ten years, after Abbot Chuan Zhi Shakya gave me precepts into the Order and named me, Fa Ming:

The Mask

The mask is placed upon the face,
yet envelopes all of me.
For with no disguise, how would your eyes
handle what they see?

I am yesterday, tomorrow, today,
I am all that will ever exist...
the tears you fear, the noise you hear,
a long awaited kiss.

For you I bend; to you, I extend
my million tentacle hands--
they grab you, feel you, show how to heal you
so you may understand...


I wear the mask, so you Can ask
Truth to seep into your mind--
"I am" is all you need to call
and Eternity you will find.