Updated: Mar 13, 2020
For over ten years now I have found myself being in a teacher's position while realizing being a student is what I feel far more comfortable with. Actually none of the two defines me in a significant way and after years of searching I can't think of anything else that would. But do we really need that, self-identities? In a way we do but in no deeper sense than we need clothes to wear. We wear them, then take them off. When they are dirty we clean them and when they are used we change them for new ones but beneath what we wear we are simply bear. We come into the world naked and we leave the world naked while in between we try different clothes on. But nothing that we could ever put on will ever fully cover that fundemental nakedness that birth reveals and exposes us to, that death reveals and exposes us to. None of the clothes makes the fit not even a monk's robe.
Still learning, still learning the unlearning. What I've learned over decades of introspection, self-inquiry, and practice is that I actually know quite little. That is not how I've always felt. It is understandable to be infused with a certain measure of pride in one's sense of accomplishment and realization, or in what one perceives as one's accomplishment and realization, as we make our first inroads on this life long journey but as we continue and become more intimate with the path, with the dharma, with ourselves and others, we realize how actually little we know, how limited our understanding is which takes us in a direction that feels quite different than that of pride: always on some edge as we contemplate unfathomable humility.
“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless. - T.S.Eliot "
These words of Eliot have had a deep effect on me over the years though I can also appreciate today that the humility he talks about has more to do with an experience of self-emptying than one of acquiring; more than acquiring you continue the shedding and the shedding never quite ends even when the leaves have all gone.
The 12th century Zen Master Dogen sums up the paradox I mentioned above in this sublime way: " When dharma does not fill your whole body and mind, you think it is already sufficient. When dharma fills your body and mind, you understand that something is missing."
What is missing is what we can get a glimpse of in another saying of his: “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind, as well as the bodies and minds of others, drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”
Many believe that enlightenment is the culminating point of the journey but what I have found poignantly beautiful and profound in Zen teachings is that from there the practice becomes endless as we pursue the no-trace of enlightenment remains, continuously.
Isn't this another way of speaking of what is endless in humility? To tread a path that as you walk upon effaces itself and effacing itself effaces you so that it reveals this to you: there is no path outside of you, take a closer look, there is no path inside of you, you are the path.