I’ve read that Zen Buddhism is as much about unlearning as it is learning. It offers a process of removing “the veil.” We can begin to see the world with fresh eyes, without all the interpretation and beliefs we’re accustomed to glopping on top of everything. I think all religion, at its best, strives to offer a path to a new perspective. There’s a saying about this. Before studying Zen, mountains and rivers are mountains and rivers. While studying, they are no longer these things. Further down the path of enlightenment, they are again mountains and rivers.
Yet, I’m not ready to abandon my thinking—the jurisdiction of my “little I”—altogether. Like my Zen master pointed out, I need it and her. What would I write about if not for the realm of ideas? How would I get it written? But I can see the importance of coming back to the present moment, which offers an alternative state of awareness: my true nature is more than a “little I.” Maybe, then, she panics and lashes out because it is like a death for her—and what if I never come back? Inevitably, I do. Something draws me away from “the now”— some dissatisfaction or distraction. I return to the thoughts, and my “little I” is reborn. These cycles of awareness may happen a few times a week, or many times a day.
When I started this exploration of Buddhism, I thought the concept of reincarnation was cut and dry: a person’s body died and their consciousness or soul would appear in some other life form. I would be me, only looking out from the eyes of, say, a turtle. But this path encourages realizations inside of realizations. Now I see, like karma, it can be more subtle, and more complex. Perhaps Buddha was referring to cycles of awareness when he said every life contains countless deaths and rebirths. The thoughts and actions in one affect the thoughts and actions in the next, and so on down the line, because nothing arises independently. The influence of each of our lives ripples out based on how we live. Jews have history and story passed through generations, Christian’s call it “eternal life,” and Buddhists see a web of interdependence in which a separate self is an illusion. In all of them, our existence continues to matter long after the body is gone.