Even though everything we write and speak is just words, and even though words by themselves can never fully express this reality, we have to keep trying. The wisdom teachings are here to show us that there really isn’t any thing holding us back. By trying continually, we gradually realize this. To me, what we normally think of as things, seem like mysterious stepping stones on our journey to self realization that we can never fully comprehend. So perhaps there will always be feelings that we can go higher, and become freer on our journey to realizing our actual being. The more deeply we’re able to absorb and surrender to this truth, the less likely we are to remain bogged down in delusions of finally being done with it.
A famous verse written by Zen master Tozan Ryokai is called the Jewel Mirror of Awareness. One line has captured my attention over the years, and I’m still pondering its meaning as I try to contemplate and absorb the actual reality of our lives.
It is like facing a jewel mirror;
Form and image behold each other—
You are not It.
It actually is you.
When I visited my first Zen teacher Richard Baker Roshi this year, he quoted this line. For me it’s very powerful in practicing how to occupy our life as an expression of infinite spirit, while living the life of a human being. This line gives rise to very alive questions to many on the path of spiritual inquiry.
When we look in the mirror, there is no need to try and manipulate the images we see. Every movement is a pure reflection of our actions. The mirror just reflects, it doesn’t hesitate, think or judge. When we observe ourselves in the mirror we can more easily see our reflection objectively; however we appear, or act, we can see our activity as just happening, free of our thinking about it. We can see it as just a collection of sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughts arising moment to moment.
The being we think we are is merely fragments of thought just arising and changing constantly along with the rest of our experience. When master Tozan wrote this verse, he is using the word It as an expression of our true nature, the awareness we are. It is like facing a jewel mirror, It includes our body and its reflection in the mirror. What we consider the outside world is also like a mirror in that all its manifestations are reflections of the awareness we actually are. Everything is happening as an expression of the being we are.
Tozan says “You are not It”. What we think we are as a separate being, what we experience doing by ourselves is not It. Our experience of being separate is nothing more than thoughts and feelings of being separate. “It is actually you.” It, our true nature, the awareness we are, includes everything. It is what our experience of being human actually is.
I recently finished reading a book by Paul Brunton entitled The Short Path to Enlightenment. He wrote several wonderful books in the middle of the last century, and was one of the pioneers in bringing Eastern spirituality to the West. The title is a misnomer, it is not about shallow short cuts on the path, or about spiritual bypassing. The title is an enticement to introduce deeper teachings, and I highly recommend the book to those with a serious interest in spiritual inquiry.
He recommends an awareness exercise in the book that I hadn’t directly encountered before. It is in essence the practice of living our life as much as possible as if we are already totally enlightened. It’s the practice of just ignoring all thoughts to the contrary. To me it is just allowing It, or spirit, to be you. In doing this practice, it’s especially important to not harbor thoughts of ‘me by myself being It’. So a better way to say it, is that it’s an awareness practice of allowing complete enlightenment to be you, rather than practicing as if you are totally enlightened.
Many of the greatest masters of the Bhakti yoga teachings on opening to divine love, say that all we need for the full realization of enlightenment is to renounce the attachment to the notion of individuality, nothing else. It all comes down to our shared Being, there is nothing other than being, we’re all the same being. Why not resolve ourselves to simply allow it to be so,?
So if you train yourself to just pay attention to the awareness you are, this is allowing spirit, the aliveness of being, to be you. When have we ever been anything other than simply the being that we are? Gradually our attachments to being separate, our selfish preoccupations, begin to more and more stick out like a sore thumb, and this is how we become more willing to let them dissolve. This is training our body/mind to be willing to receive and share the love and compassion of our true being.