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Lions Roar : May 2017
questioning their own abilities and their own worth. That’s not a fruitful kind of questioning. We can also be stuck in a kind of questioning loop, which can be very seductive but is not at all helpful. This type of questioning is just spinning our wheels because we don’t want to get real. There’s a sutra in which a disciple comes to the Buddha and asks all sorts of questions: What’s the difference between men and women? What happens to buddhas after they die? What is the nature of reality? Do people have a soul? In reply, the Buddha says that if you’ve been shot by an arrow—which represents suffering—you don’t ask questions like “Who made the arrow? What kind of feathers are those? What kind of wood is the shaft made of?” Instead of asking questions like that, the Buddha said, it would be of more benefit to just take out the arrow. So there’s practical side to questioning. Endless speculation isn’t the point. MELVIN MCLEOD: In the Mahamudra tradition of meditation, one instruction is to look directly at the questioning mind itself. Don’t look at the question, don’t look at the answer, look directly at the mind that is asking the question. So maybe the answer isn’t the answer or the question isn’t the answer. It’s the true nature of the mind that’s asking the ques- tion. JUDY LIEF: The important question is “Who am I?” Don’t ask what the dharma is. Ask “Who am I? And who’s asking that question? How can there be this incred- ible display, which is so magnificent at some times and so painful at other times, that seems to come out of nowhere and have no real substance? It seems to be nobody can find this so- called “mind,” the one that is asking the question. Something seems to be aware of something happening, but where does it comes from? Who knows? NORMAN FISCHER: The language is different, but in Zen we have the same instruction: take the backward step; turn the mind around to illuminate itself. It’s the same practice. There’s just this moment of being here, in some way that none of us really understands. Sometimes it’s very painful, sometimes it’s very wondrous, but we never know what it is. Is it real or unreal? That question isn’t answerable either. The thing that’s stunning, when you think about it, is that we make ourselves into objects of our own scrutiny. This is pain, right? A lot of people complain about the pain of self-judg- ment, but how is self-judgment even possible? Wouldn’t you have to have two selves? There’d be the one who’s being judged and the other one doing the judging. When you do the practice, you see that this is a real fantasy— there’s nothing there to judge or be judged by or anything like that. In meditation, the whole exercise is to see past the person who would fail or succeed. Nobody can succeed at meditation and nobody can fail either, because the person who’s actually meditating is always perfectly meditating. It’s that other guy, the one who’s judging, who gets you into trouble. MELVIN MCLEOD: The Vajrayana tradition talks about the need to have certainty in the view —a firm understanding of This conversation between Vajrayana teacher Judy Lief and Zen teacher Norman Fischer at the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco was presented by Lion’s Roar, the Khyentse Foundation, and San Francisco Zen Center. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 69