A Year in the Life of a Buddhist
The Rising of the “I”
Earlier today I forgot to do something and I hear a little voice in my head say, with such clarity and authority, “I can’t believe I forgot that! I’m so forgetful!” I realize it was me saying “I” forgot something and “I” am so forgetful. Where did this “I” come from? Somehow the “I” that forgot something is apparently the same “I” that got angry for forgetting it, yet they also seem separate. What!?
I remember stubbing my toe once and my mind screamed, “You bloody idiot!! Why’d you do that?! Stupid, stupid foot!” Here, my mind was yelling at my body. The same “I” that was criticizing the mind earlier today, was capable of yelling at my body! Really? Isn’t that bizarre? Where does this “I” come from? The “I” in both cases seems to exist in and of itself, but it must have an arising from somewhere, as all things do. It must have a pre-determined set of conditions that allow it to arise.
If we do something good and we receive accolades for it, the “I” rises up quickly to accept the thanks. Where did this “I” come from? Is it the same “I” that rose up to yell at my foot?
If we do something wrong and receive blame, the “I” rises up and says, “I can’t believe I did that! I’m so embarrassed.” Is this the same “I” that only a moment ago rose up to receive the accolades? It seems to be.
In fact, once observed, the “I” seems to be almost everywhere. It’s in the blame, fame, emotions, anger, joy ... just about everywhere! It clearly is, at least at times, an integral part of “us,” yet at other times it sounds like it’s quite outside or separate from us. I guess it’s both. It seems to arise dependently or independently at various times.
Sometimes the “I” is an observer, looking at and reporting on the state of the body. “I’m hungry.” “I’m tired.” But then there’s the “I” that seems to arise to keep us separate from the outside world, or to become part of it at different times - the ego “I.”
Not sure where I was going with this, other than to just point out to myself that “I” rises variously in different forms at different times, but exactly where it comes to is a bit of a mystery to me.
Back in 1975 or 1976 I started reading the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance. To be honest, I didn’t finish it and the only thing I can really remember about it was the author was riding a motorcycle somewhere and he was writing about finding various qualities in things. He had one type of bike and his fellow rider had another and they often compared the “superior quality” of one over the other.
I don’t remember the brands or the specifics of the machines, but I do remember them trying to suss out where the specific quality of the products came from. Each part, when compared to the other machine’s part, was more or less the same as the first, yet somehow the illusion of “superior quality” of one over the other kept coming up. But what made it better? Was it the tires? Was it the motor or the oil? The seat or the handlebars, etc. There was no specific item or set of items that were clearly “better.”
So, I suppose the reason that popped into my head was that like the “superior quality” of the machine was so hard to pin down, so it might be with “I.”
“I” is not in my fingers or my toes - if I lost them in an accident, I’d still have and sense of “I.” Not my lungs, liver or similar organs seem to house “I.” Clearly, its somewhere in the brain, yet if some parts of our brain become damaged, we still seem to have a sense of “I.” Somewhere in the brain, wherever our “mind” resides, lives the “I” that we so easily trot out.
In a way, we come right back to the idea that we are made of Star Stuff, literally. The actual stuff of stars; carbon, iron, hydrogen, calcium, etc. Without the stars our “I” wouldn’t exist, in-so-far as our brains wouldn’t exist. Without the universe and everything in it, our “I” couldn’t exist, for the bodies and the minds we run around with everyday, and treat too often with callous disregard, are utterly dependent on the creation of the universe that came so long before us. Our minds are really an echo of the universe that was formed so long ago. Are you writing this down Richard Krauss?
A Year in the Life of a Buddhist