When we allow ourselves to deeply ask the question “What or who am I?” we are allowing ourselves to become what Zen master Hakuin called The Great Doubt: “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.”
The Zen masters teach us that the fully awakened mind is always already fully present in its entirety, with nothing lacking. When I first started practicing Zen, this statement became the object of my own great doubt. My questioning brought me face to face again and again with the reality that my thinking mind did not, could not, fully believe this statement. Gradually it became clear that there was no way to do away with the doubt. Great doubt is one expression of what we are. It became clear to me that to deeply ask the question of “Who am I?” was to allow myself to become the doubt itself.
Eventually I realized I had thought all along that I was doubting Buddha nature, doubting enlightenment itself. But when I finally left my awareness to itself, including all my ideas about it, I realized what is actually here and now cannot be doubted. All this time, I had been doubting the truth of my ideas of reality. There is no truth to be found in the concept of enlightenment or Buddha Nature. So it is imperative to doubt the truth of our concepts about enlightenment, and at the same time to be aware what we are doubting.
Reality is not an it that can be doubted or affirmed. Reality cannot be grasped by making it into an object of thought. But we have to try. Indeed, our spirit of inquiry is deepened by our trying. It is deepened by our wanting to know. This is our role: not to know what reality is. Here and now is the source. Here and now is one hundred percent identical with every possible manifestation in the universe. If you doubt this idea deeply, you will awaken deeply.
Saint Augustine said start with general doubt, and doubt absolutely everything you can. You will find that you can doubt the reliability of logic (it might be wrong), you can even doubt the reliability of sense impressions (they might be a hallucination). But even in the most intense doubt we are aware of the doubt itself; in our immediate awareness there is certainty, even if it is only a certainty that we are doubting – and we can never shake that certainty. Immediate awareness is always what is manifesting the concept of doubt. Any truth in the exterior world can be doubted, but always there is the certainty of interior immediateness or basic Wakefulness; and God, said Augustine, lies in and through that basic Wakefulness, whose certainty is never, and can never be, actually doubted.
If you doubt these ideas of Augustine’s deeply, the certainty of the presence of immediate awareness, the certainty of the presence of God, can be deeply awakened to.