Working with disowned voices to turn our light inward and illuminate the self
Student: It seems like what you’ve done with the way you do these disowned voices is you’ve found a way to really unlock the beginner’s mind, the not-knowing and the beginner’s mind.
That’s right. And a koan. It becomes a koan. Instead of traditional koans, we can also do a koan by saying, ‘OK what’s the opposite, or what’s disowned?’ I mean, if you ask to speak to an emotion, like anger, everybody knows what anger is. But when you say anger disowned, well, wait a minute. And then you go, OK now we’ve owned anger and we know what anger is, so let me speak to the opposite of anger, but disowned. ‘What am I?’
And that’s a natural koan, a real koan. What am I? If I’m not anger, what am I? If I’m not anger, and I’m disowned, what the hell am I? Am I calm? Tranquil? What am I? And that gets the mind working by turning it inward.
And the whole point of meditation – not the whole point, but a big point of meditation – is to turn our own light inward. Because normally our light is projected out. Normally our consciousness and everything is projected out there, and we see the world out there in this way we see the world. But rarely do we turn it in on itself, turn the mind in on itself and illuminate the self.
When we turn the light inward, it’s like a jack o’ lantern, or a pumpkin. We put the light inside the pumpkin, it lights up the pumpkin from inside. When the light is going out like a torch, like a flashlight, it doesn’t light up the pumpkin. So we turn the light inward, and we illuminate the self.
So the trick is, how do you get people to turn their light inward? It’s not so easy, because we’re very conditioned – and this is the habitual pattern – to only go out, and we don’t look in. We never ask who’s feeling these sensations? Who’s thinking these thoughts? Who’s perceiving these things? We don’t ask that question, because the moment I start to ask ‘Who’s hearing these sounds?’ I don’t know. There’s hearing, but I can’t find a guy, can’t find the guy that’s hearing them. And I know there’s hearing, there’s the act of hearing, the process of hearing it, but who’s there?’ Well it turns out I can’t find that. He’s ungraspable. Same thing with all the others.
That brings about illumination.
This is an excerpt, recorded live, from a retreat led by Genpo Roshi in December 2016.