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Lions Roar : November 2015
conjure up a phantom woman, would it be reasonable to ask her why she didn’t change out of her female body?” “No,” Shariputra says. “Phantoms have no fixed form, so what would there be to change?” The goddess replies, “All things are just the same—they have no fixed form. So why ask why I don’t change out of my female form?” Then the goddess employs her supernatural powers to change Shariputra into a goddess like herself, while she takes Shariputra’s form. Then she asks, “Why don’t you change out of this female body?” Shariputra, now in the form of a goddess, says, “I don’t know why I have sud- denly changed and taken on this female body!” The goddess replies, “Shariputra, if you can change out of this female body, then all women can change likewise. Shariputra, who is not a woman, appears in a woman’s body. And the same is true for all women—though they appear in women’s bodies, they are not ‘women.’ Therefore the Buddha teaches that all phenom- ena are neither male nor female.” What a radical and liberating teaching! On the one hand, there is the internal self that we have hidden and that cries out to be heard, just like Senjo’s ghostly self. That self is rec- ognized and healed by our awareness and attention. On the other hand, there is the aspect of our self that is nei- ther male nor female, that has no intrinsic nature. It is emp- tiness itself—a non-substantial, impermanent flow, where there is no “is” and “is-not,” where there is no boundary, and all energy and life flows in and out of itself. That is the wondrous aspect of the self, free and responsive. Three Pure Precepts: The Self in the World But how are these two aspects of the self—the demands of our ordinary self and our extraordinary self—reconciled in our day-to-day life? What about our actual conduct in this life? For me, the most helpful teaching in this regard derives from the early teachings on morality. These are the three pure precepts, handed down over many generations and now also known as the Zen Peacemaker three tenets. They are: Not Knowing. Bearing Witness. Taking Action. Not knowing, breath by breath, I enter the mystery of life without any fixed ideas of yes or no, this or that. Who am I really? I encounter my sense of self and identity as a possibility. It is what is arising right now, having nothing to do with what I’ve been told or what I’ve thought up until now. Freely, I can rest in the cloud of unknowing. Here anything is possible. Our perspective has no point, but all points; no “way,” but all ways. We are not bound by our old ideas of self. When we approach life from this position, we drop all that we know and we are often surprised to find a new vibrant reality. In each moment, can I allow the possibility of what is arising now, not yesterday or tomorrow? Bearing witness, on the other hand, brings in a multiplic- ity of perspectives. Anchored in not knowing, we see with new eyes, taking no sides but witnessing the joy and suffering around us and in us. This too is who we are. To bear witness is to listen without any preconceptions, ideas, or judgments. It is to listen with the whole heart and mind that has experienced the depth of not knowing. This is the listening of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva who hears the cries of the world. It is listening without judging or reaction. It is listening with sincerity and openheartedness. We listen so deeply we can hear what self and other are say- ing, and also what is unsaid. Just by listening like this we relieve much suffering. We are able to offer empathy, compassion, and wisdom to all the selves we encounter—inside and outside, self and other. Taking action then is as natural as Avalokitesvara’s rais- ing an arm to save a wandering child. It is simply a genuine response to what is needed. Based on the wisdom of not know- ing and bearing witness, we act spontaneously, holistically, and compassionately. In a way, we can see this as the task of liberating our self so that we can fully appreciate this life, joyfully express ourselves, and serve the world. What, then, is this self? There is the self that integrates itself, as in Senjo’s koan; the self that flows with the changing tides of reality, as the goddess does in the sutra; and the self that approaches ordinary life with the wisdom of not knowing, bearing witness, and taking action. These three teachings have helped me resolve my own under- standing of the self and how it functions in the world. Instead of shame and hiding, instead of anger and frustration, I’ve found solace and strength. In this way, I can be available to the self that is calling through me from the Self that is all space and time. ♦ Freely, I can rest in the cloud of unknowing. Here anything is possible. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 40