Being Human

Being Human
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For the past nearly 30 years I’ve been so busy trying to learn how to be a Buddhist monk that I think I’ve forgotten how to be human. Or what it means to be human. That’s funny because in Son Buddhism one of the definitions of an enlightened being is a “true human being.” A true human being without rank, the old Zen slogan goes. Which is to say, an authentic human being without title or position.

A naked human being.

When I first got it into my head to try to find an enlightened master, this was the question that was on my mind: What is a human being? What am I? What is the true nature of my existence?

But joining a religion can be a confusing thing. In fact, a lot of religion is not only confusing, it’s downright misleading. Deliberately so. Because in every human organization in the world, much if not most of the rules of conduct are designed more to maintain control than to actually make us better people.

And when you become a religious cleric like a monk, the first step is actually a misstep. You shave your head, you receive your robes, and you receive your new name. You’re told that you’ve become someone new. As if that’s the purpose of religion in our lives: To make us become something different.

Do you see the misdirection? Before I became a monk, I was wondering what I actually am. I agreed to join a religion because I was told that if I do so, I’ll be able to find an answer to my question, “What am I really?” But as soon as I joined, I was told I had to become someone entirely different.

Someone who talks differently, eats differently, acts differently, and walks differently. A Buddhist monk, whatever that means. I was so young, I was so busy trying to learn all of these new protocols and rules of conduct, not to mention a new language, that I didn’t think to ask how all of this would answer my first and only question.

What am I as I stand here, right now?

Like so many before me, as soon as I joined my religion, I began to believe blindly. Believing blindly, by the way, means believing that the reasons why we have to do or not do certain things is beyond the capacity of an unenlightened human being to understand. If these things are truly beyond ordinary human comprehension, then the only thing left to do is simply obey. This is the blinding effect that an improperly or unethically administered religious system can have.

Well, thirty years have passed and for the most part I’ve learned how to act like a monk. I have been a loyal and obedient disciple. But my original question remains unanswered.

Five years ago my teacher Son Master Songdam instructed me to share his teachings with the world. He told me, “I believe the world is ready to learn and practice Son meditation. If a great enlightened master like the Buddha or Bodhidharma were to appear in the world today, I think he would be born in places like the United States or Europe.”

Since then I’ve been running around everywhere I could in the United States and Korea, trying to teach people how to meditate. I told everyone that if you practice this Son meditation, you will experience an “awakening of consciousness.” What’s funny and ironic is that after five years of this, the person I ended up waking was myself.

After meeting all of these new people, going to all of these new places, and trying all of these new things, I woke up. I woke up to a lot of things.

First and foremost, “spirituality” and “spiritual practice” aren’t something that can be taught. They can’t be given or received. Nor can they be understood or misunderstood.

I know that sounds kind of Zen, but I’m not trying to be elusive. What I’m trying to say is simply this.

Like art, like breathing, like walking, and like loving, with meditation we just have to stumble into it and discover how to do it for ourselves. And as with all of those other perfectly beautiful human actions, what we discover is that each of us has our own way of doing it. Not only that, we discover that as with art, breathing, walking, and loving, we were born to do it. We were born to meditate. Our bodies were designed for it and so were our minds.

To know. To feel. And to be.

So I’ve decided to stop trying to act like a meditation teacher. I’m tremendously grateful for this opportunity to blog on The Huffington Post. I’ve often wondered what I should do here with this opportunity. Now I finally know.

I think I’ll just talk with you, as one human being to another.

This is what I have to say to you today. You already know how to meditate. How to look within. But it’s like a muscle you’ve never used before. At the beginning you won’t feel like you’re doing anything. The posture, breathing method, and concentration technique of Son meditation help to facilitate the act of meditation, of gazing deeply within. But they are not the heart of Son meditation.

The heart of meditation is quite literally your own heart. The heart that wants to know and to live and to feel. The heart that wants to be born. That’s what we’re really meditating on and that’s what we’re really meditating with. Meditation is simply the mind trying to see itself.

It’s quite a weird thing to be starting over so late in life. Sometimes I feel elated. Sometimes I feel like I’ve missed my chance. You know what I mean, right?

I live more like “normal” people now than ever before. I commute to the places that I work four to five times a week. I have to deal with rush hour traffic. I meditate while driving through it, but, honestly, that doesn’t change the fact that it sucks. Especially rush hour traffic in Korea where the lanes are narrower and the drivers more temperamental.

I’m grateful for the times when I can rest. I don’t have weekends, but I do have sporadic rest days. The other day I snuck over to a nearby park next to the local Chinatown. At this time every year for the past few years I’d been meaning to check out the cherry blossoms when they come into bloom. A couple of days ago I finally gave myself the chance. I was lucky because it was the last day before they withered.

I went out in the evening. For the first time in a while I stopped being so serious and earnest about everything. I just strolled along in the evening chill without saying anything. There were people out, young families and groups of friends. The sun was going down and in every passing moment the lighting changed, becoming ever more sombre, ever quieter, and ever more tranquil. Every evening of every day we are treated to such a display of perfect, gentle beauty and meaning.

Like a tourist, I took photos of the cherry blossoms, even though I’ve been living around here for so many years. What is it about cherry blossoms that makes them so perfect?

The very next day the cherry blossoms withered and fell off the trees. It’s amazing how quickly they disappear. But for a time at least they remain in memory. The delicacy of them on the branches. And how they rained in fluttering streams across a path I haven’t walked in quite some time. It’s good to be back.

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