The Questioning Way

Presented by: 
Ed Parker

Sometimes I am asked if I meditate. I meditate every moment. I meditate on each act of my being in this foolish drama that is my life. I simply have no choice; I am a foolish Buddhist. Now there are 84,000 ways to be a Buddhist, but there is only one way to become aware and that is to question what you are doing. Unless you are constantly challenging, questioning, and examining what you do and why you are doing it, you are not following the Dharma of Sakyamuni and Shinran. It is a lot of work, you must read, study and think, and to doubt. Buddhism is about becoming aware.

Buddhism is a questioning religion and it begins by doubting the self. Let me explain what I mean by doubting the self. The self is who we think we are, what we think we are. It is a delusion and like all delusions, exists quite apart from reality, some, perhaps further than others. To doubt the self, means you have stumbled over reality, or one delusion has bumped into another. Either way, something is about to change, and change without understanding is is the root of all suffering.

We all know people who do things that if they saw themselves the same way we do they would stop doing it. There are clothes only skinny people should wear; things no one should wear like thong underwear; guys who pull their underwear up and their pants down. These people do not see themselves the same way I do, which is fine. The point is we all have a different idea of who we are, and see ourselves in ways no one else does. This image changes through out our lives, or should. Unfortunately, we tend to lock ourselves into who we think we are and hold onto this image until some doubt as to the reality of this self emerges. The death of a loved one can do this, or seeing a two year old child and knowing that you were once like that child and you will never again be that cute. In these moments, you grasp the true meaning of impermanence. Life is change and change is the source of all suffering; your only salvation is in understanding this one truth.

This occurred to me the other day while staring at the amount of food on my plate. I had filled it the way I did when I was twenty. I have an attachment to eating a lot and when I do, a lot of it attaches to me. I have an old man’s body and a young man’s appetite, which may explain why I look the way I do. The question I have to ask myself is, must I be fat? If I begin to doubt that my role in life is to be an old fat man, I will start to eat less. No one can tell me this. Those who have tried, my wife, my daughter, my doctor, know I won’t listen. I am fat, but I don’t see myself as fat. I see myself as the strong chunky guy I have always been. Go figure. If this were a matter of logic and reason, I would get myself a smaller plate. It isn’t. Still, when we doubt an attachment, its hold on us loosens and we begin to have options. Hopefully, one of my options will be a smaller plate. It all begins by questioning who we think we are.

The Buddhist way is to question the self as a form of meditation. What is this self, this me, this stream of consciousness into which I seek the moment’s being, to grasp this elusive now, like a drop of water in a swiftly flowing stream. In questioning the self, I find that I am a passing moment’s reflection, existing only in memory, and that deluded by ten thousand things.

There is a sense of futility in all this, but not negatively so. This testing of reality by questioning the state of our own consciousness creates a humbling insecurity, a frightening, yet creative sense of doubt that is the mother of all possibilities. It is a practice, an exercise to be completed by saying the nembutsu with humility and gratitude. It doesn’t happen overnight or without effort.

What am I? What is this I am being? The answer is only another question. There is nowhere to stand, nothing on which you can depend. We suffer in our blind passions like a naked child running through a field of nettles, crying out in fear and pain? And yet, though the child is alone, a voice calls out, “Slow down, see what you are doing.” In hearing this voice, the ego begins to break down; the self dwindles. How foolish, this bag of bones? How terribly foolish?

From this void emerges the Buddha within. It is in questioning, that we find the voice that calls to us. This voice that begins with questioning the self and ends with Amida Buddha: this truth arising of itself in the question, “What am I being? It is only by humbly accepting our limitations that such limitations can be overcome. To reach our inconceivable, unknowable self that is Amida Buddha, we must rely on the power of Amida Buddha. We are simply limited foolish beings and we acknowledge this by saying the nembutsu with deep humility, sincerity and gratitude. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts.

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