Zen master Seung Sahn had some of his lectures and letters saved in a few books. When one of the Zen students says something expressed with 'I', a typical response will be something like: 'who is this I?' or what is this I?' When a person is expressing himself or herself with 'I' the person is consciously separating oneself from everyone else to express their view distinctly from that of all others, especially when in a metaphysical conversation. Seung Sahn often recommended what he called a 'don't know' mind, so the student does not cling to such certainty exhibited by the 'I' statement. When Seung Sahn asked a student a question to check their awareness in this regard, he was checking for what he called this 'don't know mind' rather than a response in the form of 'I am this' or 'I know that'.
As this author has expressed elsewhere on this site (consciousness), when a person is consciously contemplating one's place within the universe, this thought process will inherently provide a sense of being separate from the universe, as one considers one's life's experiences as an individual. Even experiences as part of group are recollected from a personal perspective. In other words, just the act of thinking can provide a somewhat isolating perspective.
The Zen students are being taught, as they seek enlightenment in the practice of Zen, to become more aware of this internal thought process which can hinder that enlightenment being sought. The 'only don't know mind' is part of Seung Sahn's method of teaching.
I find it rather interesting that the use of 'I' is actually important in writing style and in business. The APA actually defined a style where ‘I’ is preferred when referring to the researcher, or ‘we’ is used only for the multiple authors. This active style (i.e., using I) is preferred over a passive style, as in: 'I conducted this experiment' rather than the passive ' experiments were conducted.' The use of 'I' in business conversations or correspondence is important in establishing a personal responsibility (as in 'I will do this or that' rather than corporate or a group responsibility (as: 'we will do this or that') so with the I statement the other person is assured of a personal contact. The use of 'we' could come across as too general and certainly on one wishes to deal with a committee to resolve an important problem.
There is another context for this 'I' in real life, outside of the transient life of a student with a Zen master. Seung Sahn had another frequent expression for his students: 'only go straight.' My interpretation of his 'only go straight' is what I would call a 'now mind' - a focus only on now, ignoring distractions. Focus only on those in our conversation - ignoring all else not part of that interaction. Focus only on the job you are doing - ignoring other activities or perhaps future plans or even past experiences. This concentration on now should help avoid daydreaming (which is simply a mental separation from the here and now into a mode of isolated thinking. Distractions can lead to a perspective of one being isolated while confronted with those external interruptions. Concentrating on the here and now, even when using the 'I' in conversations or correspondence, should avoid that tendency to become mentally isolated by not mentally detaching one's consciousness from the present. The focus is maintained on your personal integration (both mentally and physically) into the present context, whether that context is mostly the people around you or mostly the physical tasks of the job, or whatever combination of social interactions are involved in one's daily life.
While growing up I frequently attended Catholic services. The rituals within a mass repeat from one Sunday to the next, but with an emphasis on those selected passages from the Bible that the priest is interpreting on that day. From my understanding of the other major religions of the west, they are all rather similar in one significant respect. Instead of focusing on one's integration into life (i.e., with a now mind), one must consider how the supernatural bring (i.e., God) has a divine plan for the universe and for me, though that plan is quite unknown and supposedly becomes available only via interpretations offered by someone else (the leaders or critical theologians of that religion). At the moment of my death I will be judged, with that critical judgment affecting how my soul will exist for the rest of eternity. Any time spent contemplating this scenario is immediately isolating one's consciousness from life. The course of one's entire life spanning only a few decades is quite insignificant when compared to forever.
Zen is a religion in that its goal is a personal enlightenment, an appreciation of one's place within the universe (not separated from it). Unlike other religions, it has no supernatural being to worship. it has no holy text and no holy people to be venerated from its past. It has no rigid behavior practices to follow, though as a derivative from Buddhism those precepts are typically assumed to be relevant, but they are not treated a rigid rule.
The focus of Zen is on enlightenment. Alan Watts once compared all religions to a finger pointing at the moon; all those many religions with scriptures tend to emphasize that finger, the interpretation of those scriptures written long ago, rather than the moon - the perspective on life being offered by that religion. Zen remains focused on its goal of enlightenment, not on how to get there. The teachings and practices recorded over the years offer insight on how to get there (enlightenment). Those many stories highlight that enlightenment is a profoundly personal experience and for each person that flash can be triggered by different events. There is most certainly not one critical path following specific behaviors to enlightenment.
I am not a Zen master nor have I ever met one. My exposure to Zen is only through books, with my earlier reading mostly works by Alan Watts, relative to my own personal religious experiences. Watts offered frequent comparisons between religions, including several from the East, to Christianity, the religion of his early schooling.
Unlike the chanting and meditation apparently common in some Zen circles (like described in some of the Seung Sahn books), I rarely do either. I know I was often contemplating a few koans around the time of my first jolt of a religious experience while at work when only 21, but I was certainly not meditating at the time. Watts frequently mentioned Taoism in addition to Zen. He likened the Tao to the flow of water. Meditation to me always seemed like stepping out of the flow of life; I prefer to avoid that mental detachment. I can appreciate that meditation is helpful for some when first seeking an understanding, via reason and contemplation, of our complete integration into life. I see meditation as a suggestion not as a requirement. As a simple guide, I seek the now mind.
Perhaps this essay will be meaningless to all those unfamiliar with any Eastern religions. It describes my personal perspective on managing one's consciousness, when dealing with distractions and interruptions which will always occur in everyday life given its natural chaos. In my attempt to offer interested readers a more complete picture of my interpretation of Zen along with other individual essays on similar topics, I felt this concept of the now mind should be described in this site as well.
There can be no one true religion for everyone as the religious experience is personal. One's individual interpretation of a role in the universe is shaped by their personal context, that can vary by their culture - and whatever religion was dominant while growing up. As I have suggested elsewhere, each person has a different tolerance for the chaos present in the complexity of life; some need the comfort of believing in a supernatural being guiding this context while others can accept that chaos without supernatural intervention.
For me, the now mind maintains a focus on life. The lack of a now mind allows one to develop a feeling of being separate from the wonder and chaos that make up the typical life of every human being.
created - October 1, 2016
last change - 10/01/2016
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