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Finding Your Internal Teacher

27 Dec 2021 1:00 PM | Genpo Roshi

Student:  I know that we need to be truthful with ourselves in confronting anything, but I know we are good at fooling ourselves.  So how can we avoid that pitfall?  How can I check that I am not fooling myself?

Genpo Roshi:  Who is this self that’s fooling the self?

Student:  Well, it’s me.

So who has responsibility?

Student:  Well, I do.

Who can do anything about this?

Student:  I can, and I’m doing my best, but I must check it sometimes.

Yes, who are you going to check with?

Student:  I thought that’s what I have you for.

OK.  I won’t always be here.

Student:  Yes, exactly.

So, what you’re saying is absolutely true.  Also what’s true is, you can internalize what I might say, what Roshi might say, and start to rely more and more on that, using the external teacher to kind of awaken the internal Roshi.  Because you’ve got Roshi within you just as much as I do.  It’s just how much do you access that voice?  And so to start, you can ask your own questions and then see how they relate, that voice’s answers versus your answers.

Way before Big Mind, what I used to do is identify with Roshi.  I would say, ‘OK, I am Roshi’.  I would do that on my own because of my Gestalt work probably, or my opening.  I don’t know why, but I always did that.  I would sit and visualize being Roshi sitting there, and then how he would answer when people would ask the same questions.  And I started to trust that more and more.  ‘Oh my god, I can do this, I can see things like he sees, I can answer these questions.’ 

It’s most difficult with oneself, because as you said, the ego can be very cunning and very tricky.  So it’s harder to answer the same questions yourself.  But you start to answer for others, you begin to say, ‘Well, I’m not special.  If I would say it to someone else, I’d have to say it to myself.’  So if I would say to somebody else, ‘Just sit and work on this,’ I’d have to say that to myself, ‘Just sit, work on this.’

So you start to trust more, but also to open youself up more to your potential, whatever that potential is.  For me it was all about being a Roshi and being a teacher, being a Zen Master.  That’s all I saw myself as and all I wanted, to share this Dharma with others.  So that was what I visualized.  Some of you might want to visualize something else, being Picasso or something.

Student:  But who says I can’t fool myself?

Of course you can, I’m sure you will.  But — who’s creating all of it?  Because even when you fool yourself, it means you need to be fooled right now.  That’s real trust.  It’s not trust in getting it right.  It’s trust in knowing it’s right. 

In other words, suppose your practice was to become yourself.  That was your whole practice, just to become yourself.  Just imagine that kind of crazy practice, all about just becoming yourself, not anything else, enlightened or Genpo or Buddha or Roshi or anything, just becoming yourself.  Everything you did was planned so you’d become more and more yourself.  So wherever you stepped, how could you step wrong?  You step North or you step South, you step East, you step West, you go up, you go down — whatever direction you go, that’s yourself, nothing else.  So what can you find?  Well, it’s just myself.  What can you lose?  Myself.  What can you do?  Well, step forward, step backwards: you’re really completely free.  Completely free.  We are completely free already, we just don’t realize it.  You can’t go wrong. 

So there are two ways, in my opinion, to practice Zen, and I’m not saying either is wrong; they’re both right, they’re just two different ways.  One way is you have this image of Buddha, and you bow to the Buddha, you revere the Buddha, and you try to actualize what you believe that should be.  That’s one way.  That’s the hard way, in my opinion.

The other is you know that you are the Buddha, and you are the Way, and whatever you do is perfect.  That has its own problems, but I prefer coming from that place rather than the other — I still have preference.  But they’re both true: one is you are the Buddha, the other is you’re bowing to the Buddha.  One is you’re being the self bowing to the Buddha, the other is you’re being the Buddha manifesting.  And they’re both going on always at the same time.

So final inka to me is not what you receive from the teacher.  Final inka for me is moment to moment approving or disapproving of how you’re acting, or being.  Because finally everything is perfect, but in that perfection you’re going to criticize: ‘I need to refine myself, I can’t talk like that anymore.’  Or ‘I can’t even think that way anymore, it’s just not appropriate.’  So you’re coming from what’s appropriate. 

Everything’s changing, we are evolving, we are growing, we are becoming, hopefully, more aware and conscious, more mindful.  I think the whole planet is becoming more and more this way, we are constantly outgrowing ourselves.  So there does have to be a review board, and what I see the self-critic as is really, finally, the self-approver, the one who gives inka.  The self-critic that Hal and Sidra Stone talk about, if you really own it, becomes the one who gives or doesn’t give inka, to you.  You either approve or you don’t approve.  You stop being so critical, but you’re still looking and watching, and aware of behavior.  And refining means to be aware moment to moment of our actions, our speech.

You know, I say now about one third what I would have said at any other time in my life.  When I’m with a group of people — with you guys I kind of let it all hang out, too much — but normally with other people that haven’t given me a double-O license to kill, with them I say about one third, one fourth of what I would have said.  There’s no need for it, it’s just extra, it’s just superfluous.  You don’t need to say a lot, you don’t need to do a lot.  You can refine endlessly. 

I’m certainly not very refined.  I would never claim to be refined, but I’m working more and more at refining.  Not changing, not condemning, not even criticizing; just seeing things as they are and fine tuning.  There’s always ways to improve everything.  There’s ten ways to do anything.  When we run up against a snag and we can’t see our way through, there’s ten ways to do it.  There’s always ten, not nine, not eleven, always ten ways.  If you’re smiling I know you’re getting it, if you’re not smiling — anyway, let’s move on.

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