Sunday, November 20, 2016

Know Thyself

What defines us? Who is it we truly are within?

Throughout our lives we go through periods of change. It’s not just the nearly magical way we fly through fluidity of thought, but also the fact that our physical bodies go through changes as we grow.

But, what is at the core? I believe that philosophers and religious masters have been trying to crack that question for as long as mankind could conceive of the question. 

Lessons I learned long ago from reading about ritual magick taught me that we are made up of reflections and facets, rather like a cut gemstone. I am a step-father and husband. I am an artist and creative. I am a writer and analyst. I am a philosopher and student. I am that I am.

I have many names.

I have many roles.

I have these reflections that show who I am by relationship and connections. I am all of them and more at once. But, how many facets will others assign to me? Their opinion will change depending upon the facet that they see.

In one lifetime I have been the mendicant child as well as the obstinate one. I have been the criminal and the observer of the rules. I have been the prolific thinker and the ignorant blockhead. I have been both the jealous and the generous man.

Along my path, I’ve come to understand that I have to have faith in who I am and the path I am walking. I have to accept that I am all of the facets that show. It is a practice of meditation upon the koan that is before me.

Zen Master Hakuin during his life had a long and glorious reputation of studying and living a pure life. During his later years, he settled down and followed his philosophy of practicing deep compassion and continuing his commitment to help all sentient beings everywhere. He sought to bring the Dharma teaching to everyone.

A young girl lived near him. Her family owned a food store and catered to not only Hakuin, but the other monks in the area. Without warning, her parents found she was with child.

Throughout their rage and anger, the young girl would not confess the father’s name. It was only after long hours of questioning, asking, and other harassment that the young girl finally gave up the name of Hakuin.

The family went to the Zen Master with the information and questioned his reputation. They wondered if he were going to hell. They wondered why he had taken their daughter to bed.

“Is that so?” was all he offered in response to them.

Word had spread about the offspring. Hakuin had lost his reputation and fewer and fewer monks sat to hear his lectures and koans. Once the child was born, the family brought the wriggling mass to Hakuin.

Hakuin accepted the child. He supplied the child with clothes and food. He sought to keep the child well.

A year later, the mother of this child could no longer keep her secret as it was too great a burden to bear. She finally admitted that the real father of her child was the apprentice of the fishmonger.

The mother and father of the girl-mother went at once to Hakuin upon learning the truth. They begged and pleaded for forgiveness and apologized to the Zen Master for their ignorance. They also asked for the child back from him.

Hakuin, being who he was, was more than willing to give the child back. Throughout all of the pleas and revelations from the parents of the girl-mother, all Hakuin had said was, “Is that so?”


Zen Master Hakuin knew the truth. He did not argue the point with the ignorant that only saw the villain he had become. What was thought of him did not change the fact that he was no villain. He did not change his ways because those around him saw something of him that they did not like. He kept being Hakuin.

Who we are at our core should not be defined by what is believed of us. We are often not the monsters we are accused of being at our core. We may have been unseemly or walked darker paths but that is not the whole of what we are.

What is important, that I can see, is knowing we are all fluid. Even if we fall into the trap of believing what has been said of us, we have to understand that this too is temporary.

What is so now may not be what is so a moment from now. How we react to what challenges us is more important than mere 'facts.'

-E

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