“Who Are You?”

NMJ, Mt. Rundle, Man

In my Zen days in Canmore, Alberta, my teacher Sifu Dr. Kim would look at me sternly, crunching his eyebrows, and say, “Do Chun (my Zen name), you have a big ox.  You must find your ox!”   And I would look back at him earnestly and with all seriousness, nodding my head in the affirmative, the whole time not really knowing what the hell he was talking about.

On other occasions, Sifu would say to me and the other students, “Your body is a car going to heaven.  Who is your driver?”  Or, he said, “Your body is apartment with free rent from your parents.  Who lives in your apartment?”

Afterwards, we would go to the meditation hall, sit on our zafu cushions, asking ourselves in silence, “Where is my ox?  Who is my driver?”, never coming up with a suitable answer.

These questions, of course, are ‘koans’, and are the traditional means of helping students of meditation go within themselves to find their inner person.  The most commonly known koans are, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or, “Who were you before you were born?”   The purpose of the koan is to engage the thinking, rational mind, with a problem it cannot readily solve, and in doing so, open the conscious mind to a deeper awareness of reality beyond what can be conceptualized by our thinking mind.

This is the great challenge of being man; we think we know what is real, we think we know who we are, we even think we know who other people are – especially our loved ones, wife, children, parents, friends, – but we don’t.  We only really know ourselves to the extent that we make a journey of self discovery, a journey of self knowledge, or self awareness.

Teresa of Avila, the great Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church said about self knowledge, “However high a state the soul may attain, self knowledge is incumbent upon it, and this it shall never be able to neglect even should it so desire.”

In my opinion, the problem with Christianity in the West is that it is taught mainly as concepts and ideas about God, but there is very little instruction about how we are to actually connect (to use the vernacular) with God.  Even less so is there instruction about who we are in relation to God. I left the Catholic Church when I was 25 years-old, not so much because I had lost my faith, but because I found no satisfying teaching about finding God.  I lost my patience with all the abstract thinking about God, concepts of God, dogma, doctrine, and rules about God, faith, religion, etc., but I had no instruction in how to really know and be with God.

It was then, in those days of the mid-80′s that I found some resonance of spirit in reading Zen poetry.  There seemed to me, in the poems of rock growing in cliffs, of oneness of mind with “all that is” that intrigued me and drew me deeper and deeper into the ways of the East, until I moved so far away from my traditional Catholic faith, that I could no longer see the shoreline of Rome, so to speak.

Yet, however far from my faith I got, however far I ventured in Zen, Rome was still Rome, it did not move and I would one day return to it, to her.

Categories Blog Post | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on August 8, 2014

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