Autobiography Part 6b: "Cigarette"

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After days of sitting, I was super-sensitized to what was going on in my mind. It was amazing how the answer had appeared right out of the Don't Know. Maybe this'd inspire me to keep plugging away at "What am I?"

Kong-an answers -- good answer, bad answer, no answer -- don't matter. Even if you answer one, the teacher just throws a new one at you, bringing back Don't Know.

"Somebody comes to Zen Center," said ZMSS, "smoking a cigarette. He walks to Buddha-statue, blows smoke in Buddha's face, drops ashes on Buddha's head. You're there. How do you teach him?"

I tried to stay in the moment. "There's no cigarette-man here," I said. ZMSS immediately mimed a cigarette in his hand and pretended to smoke. "I am cigarette-man!" he declared. "You must teach me! What can you do?"

I was befuddled again. "But... you're not smoking..." I offered with hesitation. "Don't check!" ZMSS shouted back.

This time, no answer appeared. Seeing that I was hopelessly stuck, ZMSS changed his tone. "You must attain True Self," he told me. "What is True Self?" he asked, then he paused.

The pause seemed very long, because something big was going on in my mind. What is True Self? I'd been asking that question constantly for days. In a sense, I'd been asking it my whole life. I could tell that ZMSS had brought up the question rhetorically, that in a few seconds, he'd give me his own answer.

Of course, everything in this tradition had been teaching me that any answer was just an idea, just thinking. Zen-style didn't depend on a secret, special answer from a teacher. Zen meant not depending on anything. But my habit, my reflex of wanting to get something from an authority, was still there.

I saw a big "I want" in my mind, a desire for this Famous Zen Master to just give me The Answer, so I could stick it in my pocket and hold onto it forever. This "I want" was like a fish, ready to swallow whatever juicy worm ZMSS was about to give me. A fish too hungry to notice what hook might be hidden in the worm.

"What is True Self?" ZMSS repeated. Then, slowly and deliberately, he answered, "I... DON'T... KNOW!"

Oh yeah, that. I returned to my cushion in the meditation room, ready to continue sitting with the great question and the big Don't Know. About an hour later, a very interesting thing happened, which I'll blog about next time.

[originally posted at]

soul's picture


mind can't 'know'...


soul | Mon, 09/28/2009 - 23:09