Episode 23: "To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things." Could these words from the great Zen Master Eihei Dogen be the key to your shortcut to freedom and everlasting joy? In this episode we find out.
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“To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.”
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning. Right here, right now. I'm your host, Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
These are the words of the Great Zen Master, Eihei Dogen, the founder of the Soto School of Zen, and they are pregnant with the secrets to your everlasting freedom.
“To study the Way is to study the self.” The Way he is speaking of here is the Way to the Truth, to Enlightenment or Self-realization. To true freedom from bondage and limitation…
And the self is what you've come to believe yourself to be.
“To study the self is to forget the self.” Forgetting the self means to forget what you've come to believe yourself to be. That is forget the tangled web of limitations and constrictions from which you've constructed your so-called self.
Forget the limitation of body.
Forget the limitation of mind.
Forget the limitation of gender and age and ability, and on and on.
All of it is to be covered over with a thick fog of forgetting, and once forgotten, one is enlightened by the 10,000 things.
The 10,000 things is just code: It's code for everything.
Al the things that are now present in awareness. Once the self is forgotten, only the 10,000 things remain.
But here's the kicker…
The body-mind, you believe yourself to be, it happens to be one of those 10,000 things. And so really nothing changes. It all stays the same.
With one tiny, but critical, distinction…
And it's this: identification drops away.
You see, to forget the self is not to forget that a body-mind exists or to pretend that your thoughts and feelings are not here. It's to forget that they are you and that they are somehow separate from the whole. It's to see things in this moment as they are, without adding the misguided idea of me and mine and yours and theirs.
To see the unvarnished truth of the singularity of the whole, as some Masters have said, it's to allow things to be in their fundamental simplicity.
Now I'll be the first to admit, this is no mean feat. And for many of us, at least at first, it's so difficult as to seem impossible.
And that's all because we've all become habituated in seeing reality through the lenses of our beliefs. Through the lenses of our preferences. Through the lenses of our perspectives and conceptions. All of which skew and change what we see.
And the fact is this habit has become so calcified within us, that it feels like it's part of reality itself.
Even worse, as we think about how to forget the self, we are thinking about how to forget the self. Or said more clearly we are thinking.
And the problem there is that it's virtually impossible to think while forgetting the self. It’s because every thought you think in some form or fashion, has, overtly or subtly, embedded within it, your belief about who you are.
When I think: “That's a nice painting.” Embedded within that is the thought “It would look great on my bedroom wall.”
When I think: “How much to stay in that hotel?” Embedded within that is “Oh, I could never afford that.”
When I think even: “I'm a spiritual seeker.” Embedded within that is the thought “Unlike Dave, he's such a selfish jerk.”
On and on it goes, every single though carries the hidden belief in the separate, limited self.
And this is what makes the spiritual journey so challenging. Because to see the truth, we must forget the self, but to forget the self, well, that means we must forget everything we've been told and step into Nirvana—which, by the way, literally translates as extinction.
Because it's only then, from the place of the extinction of the self, that we are able to clearly see things as they are.
My birthday is this week, and for me it's a momentous occasion. But likely not for the reasons you may think.
Because, the truth is that for a long time, I was quite confused about what happened on that day, October 15th, 1963, for those of you who are keeping score…
Because I actually used to believe what they had told me: that on that day I was born into the world.
And while that makes a nice story and all, and conveniently, nearly everyone on the planet would agree with it, when I really look, free from my beliefs that pollute my perception, my experience of it is quite different.
And I'll argue the same is true for your birthday too.
You see, for when I dare to see things clearly just as they were presented.
When I forget the self, which as we've seen means to forget all thought. This leaves me free of the distorting influence of the thoughts and beliefs that skew reality. And it is then that I see that I wasn't born into the world that day. That wasn't my experience at all in my experience on that day.
The world was born into me, into my awareness.
In my experience, in that moment, my entire awareness was populated by a hospital delivery room, by a doctor, a couple of nurses, a mother, and a slimy screaming writhing baby—a prepackaged bundle of limitations that I would later be hoodwinked into believing is me.
In that moment, so many days ago, all of these things, and so many more, were born within my awareness. They arose inside of me.
This brings us to one of the most limiting and pernicious conceptions of self.
It's one that keeps us stuck in the perception of separateness. It fuels division and conflict and anxiety and fear. And most perplexing of all, it is completely contrary to what is so obviously true right now, in this moment.
So, what is this conception? Well, it's this: that I am in this body. That my awareness is in this body. My consciousness is in this body. That I live inside of this walking talking heap of compost called Eric.
It’s funny really, scientists have been forever looking for the source of consciousness; for what many would call the ghost in the machine. The ghost of consciousness that lives in the machine of the body. And despite years and years and decades of research and investigation, they have not been able to find it. And that's because it simply is not there.
There is no ghost in the machine. The machine is in the ghost.
There is no awareness in your body. Your body is in your awareness.
But don't believe me. Check it out for yourself. It's as obvious as the nose on your face right now.
Hold up your hand and look. Is your hand not in your awareness?
Look down at your foot. Is that also not in your awareness?
And close your eyes. Feel the sensations of your entire body. Are they not also inside your awareness?
I promise you, if you dare to look, and not think about it—that is to see what is independent of the mind’s inherited opinions about what is—you'll see this to be true. But even more important Is how not only is your body in your awareness, but so are other things too.
Look around right now and see what other things are in your awareness.
Are there thoughts in your awareness?
Are there feelings in your awareness?
Is there a room or a building or a landscape in your awareness?
Are other people or animals or plants in your awareness?
In other words, is it not true that it is all a lie? This notion that you are in the world when in fact, as has always been the case, the world is in you.
In India and other countries in Asia, they have an ingenious way of capturing monkeys.
They begin by constructing a small cage to be hung in the jungle. But the interesting part is how the cage is not monkey-sized. It's banana-sized.
And this banana-sized cage has another fascinating feature: and it's that it has only one small opening; an opening big enough for a monkey's hand, but not big enough for a monkey's hand holding a banana.
So, the monkey catchers hang their banana cages here and there around the jungle. And as the monkeys go about their days, swinging from limb to limb, they come across one of these banana cages and think, “Hey look, free banana!”
And they excitedly reach their little hands into the cage, they grab their free banana, and because the poor monkey won't let go of the banana, he's trapped—and doomed to live out his life collecting coins at the end of an organ grinders leash.
All because he is unaware of the consequences of his grasping. He hasn't linked, in his little mind, his loss of freedom to the grasping of the banana.
So, he continues to stubbornly hold onto the one thing that blocks what he wants: Freedom.
And the thing is, you and I are a lot like that.
For, we too are grasping our own bananas. Bananas that block our way to freedom. The freedom that is our birthright and could be ours…if only we would just let go.
But, unfortunately, our banana is not as plain to see as a piece of fruit hanging in the jungle.
Our bananas are our conceptions of ourselves. That is our bananas are what we have come to believe ourselves to be…
Yourself as a body.
Yourself as a mind.
Yourself as a human being: separate from God, separate from the whole.
All the limitations and restrictions from which you've constructed yourself, these are your banana.
And just like the poor monkey, most of us have no idea that our grasping is the cause of our bondage.
Because let's face it, our bananas, our conceptions of ourselves, they don't look like a belief in limitation. It doesn't look like a manufactured construct. It just looks like the truth--that I am Eric.
And that is precisely why it's so dangerous,
And it's here that we come full circle to the reasoning behind Dogen's words.
“To study the self is to forget the self,” and “to forget the self is to be enlightened by the 10,000 things.” For when we, in the words of the great Douglas Harding,
“Have the audacity to see free from what you've been told.” To put down the constrictions and limitations of your false concept of yourself as small, as separate, as anything less than Divine…
It is then, that true freedom dawns, not by imagining yourself to be something, but by forgetting yourself to be anything.
Do that, and then sit back and watch, and see how you are indeed enlightened by the 10,000 things.
Well, that's it for this episode. I hope today's conversation has opened you up to the possibility of your own freedom. As always, thanks for listening and please remember: That this podcast and so much of my work, is made possible only by the generosity of listeners like you.
So, please, if you can support me over on my Patreon page and when you do, I'll gift you with some of my most powerful yoga practices as my personal thank you.
Check it out now at www.patreon.com/ericwall.
And finally, if these kinds of teachings are something you would like more of into your life, consider joining us inside the online Bright Life Yoga Collective, where each week you'll join me to go even deeper with this ancient wisdom. Plus, you'll get weekly yoga and meditation practices to transform not only your yoga—but your entire life.
Learn more at my website: www.ericwal.com.
So, thanks again for being here. And remember, I'm here to serve. So let me know how I can help you.
I'm wishing you a week filled with the forgetting of your limitations and constrictions of self, and I'll see you next time.