April 15, 2018 § Leave a comment
The other night, just before retiring, I thought I’d take a look out the kitchen window for the moon.
The house lights had just been turned off so my eyes were not yet adjusted to the night. I could see out the window well enough but when I turned back to the kitchen all was dark. Now I knew, or thought I knew, that there was a chair beside me so I reached out to grab it. To my surprise there was nothing there. As my hand waved about in empty space only a thin concept of a chair existed where I expected a real chair. I say ‘thin’ because without a solid chair in my grasp the concept had no depth.
The time that elapsed while my hand waved in empty space was less than a second. It’s likely that if my eyes were adjusted a bit more to the dark I would have noticed the chair was in a different place and missed this experience altogether. Having it though I immediately realized how it paralleled the experience no self.
The experience of no self is one in which you reach out to grab something called “me” only to find it is no longer there and, if fact, was never there in the first place. It was just a concept that arose out of an aggregation of conditioned responses, thoughts and feelings brought together in an ad hoc manner. As such, the self has no depth. Upon seeing this you realize that there never was a “you” that was doing, thinking or feeling. In fact, you were not thinking, at all. Thoughts were thinking you!
A short time after the above experience I happened to reread the eighth koan of “The Gateless Gate” called Keichu’s Wheel. It reads, “Getsuan said to his students: Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the hub uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?”
I had not understood this koan before because I had seen the hub of a wheel as something useful. An idea perhaps inspired by Chapter Eleven of the “Tao te Ching” that begins, “Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; It is the center hole that makes it useful.” Getsuan questioning what would become of the wheel if it had no hub only left me with the obvious rational answer, that is, that it would be useless. Rational answers, of course, are of no value in koan study, as koans point to an experience that is beyond reason.
My “no chair” experience shed new light on the koan. It was now obvious that the wheel was a symbol of the self. Or perhaps it would be better to say that the concept of a wheel is like the concept of the self. Both are an aggregation of things. One is an aggregation of a rim, spokes and hub. The other, thought, feeling and various things like life experiences that are held together by grasping and aversion. When clinging and aversion come to an end, the self is realized as emptiness (Lao Tsu’s “center hole”). Certain tendencies might continue, just as the spokes of a wheel continue to dangle from a wheel’s rim when the hub is removed. But they are no longer recognized as an organized self that is real and self-existent. They are ‘just thoughts,’ ‘just feeling.’ Or, as Nagarjuna said, there are only actions, no doer.
Realization of no self is the mystical death wherein the false reality of self dissolves in the underlying Reality of Awareness. To the extent that you cling to the self there may be a fear of non-existence or even a feeling that you are going mad. But if you examine these fears closely you will discover that what you truly are, your true nature, has been here all along. It cannot be destroyed with the death of the self because the self was always an illusion. Something you thought you were, but never were.
Mumon asserts this at the end the koan with the poem,
When the hubless wheel turns,
Master or no master can stop it.
It turns above heaven and below earth,
South, north, east and west.
Awareness is the ‘hubless wheel’ that turns whether there is the illusion of self or not. Nothing can affect It. It turns above heaven and below earth. And It is your true nature.