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Lions Roar : November 2015
precept, can help us realize the marvelous ineffability of the constantly shifting and insubstantial nature of self, liberating us from our fixed notions of identity and self-nature. Senjo’s Soul: The Intimate Self A Zen koan that takes on the problematic question of our self- identity on a personal level begins simply with a question. Zen teacher Goso asked, “Senjo and her soul are sepa- rated—which is the true Senjo?” The question is based on a beautiful old Chinese ghost story. Once, in a village by a river, a girl and a boy, second cous- ins, grew up together as inseparable companions. They were so close that the girl’s father once joked that they seemed married already. Eventually, they did fall in love. However, the girl’s father announced that she was to marry a different man. The girl, Senjo, and her sweetheart, Ochu, were devastated, and Ochu was so upset that he decided to take his boat and leave the village. Just as he began to sail down the river, he saw a shadowy figure standing on the riverbank. Senjo stepped into the boat and they escaped down river together. Five years passed. They had two children and were very happy, except that from time to time Senjo would burst into tears because she missed her family. They decided to return, and when they arrived home, Ochu went up to Senjo’s house to ask forgiveness for leaving with her. Her father seemed surprised, and said, “What? From the day you left, Senjo has been upstairs lying on her bed, looking so sad, and she’s never said a word.” Just then, Senjo from the boat arrived at the door, and sud- denly the Senjo from upstairs appeared, smiling. The two Sen- jos looked at one another, smiled, and walked right into one another. Instantly, they became one. So the question is: “Senjo and her soul are separated. Which is the true one?” Senjo might have answered, “I’m not sure which is the real me—the one who married Ochu or the one who stayed with my family and lay sick in bed.” Your question might be: “Which is the true me, the one trying to fit into this world or the one who is shrinking and fearful, hiding and unexpressed?” Are they one or two? This story dramatically shows the bringing to life of cast-off parts of the self and the healing gained through integration. When we simply allow and acknowledge the deeply felt personal aspect of the self, we can heal. This is the interior “self-intimate” piece of who we are. It cannot be ignored. It is the deepest personal experience of who we are, and when we take care of that lost self, like Senjo lying in her bed at home, then we are no longer cut off from our experience and what often drives our daily conduct. Without integrating that self, without that whole- ness, we live on the surface, on automatic, not drawing on the wellspring of our life. Goso’s question, “Who is the real Senjo?” can only be answered when we connect to all of our personal self. And yet, of course, this is not all of who we are. The Goddess’ Body: The Universal Self There are innumerable Buddhist teachings reminding us that our self is not fixed. It is a flowing and temporary process of the skandhas—body, perception, conception, volition, and consciousness. Moment to moment, always changing, they form and re-form who we are, what we call our “self.” If we integrate this understanding, then our sense of our- selves—how we think of ourselves and our identity—does not imprison us, but frees us. This is so important these days when fixed sexual, gender, and racial categories are being challenged. There is a marvelous teaching in the Vimalakirti Sutra on this matter. The scene is Vimalakirti’s sickroom, which has miraculously expanded to accommodate numerous beings (even us!). Manjusri and Vimalakirti have been discussing the nature of the self—how it is impermanent and lacks solidity, yet gives and receives compassion. A goddess appears and debates Shariputra about the nature of language and identity. At a certain point, Sharipu- tra becomes agitated with the goddess’s skill in debate and, indirectly asserting his male privilege, says in exasperation, “Why don’t you change out of this female body?” The goddess replies, “For the past twelve years I have been trying to take on the female form, but in the end with no success. What is there to change? If a magician were to SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 39