What is self? According to Buddhism, the universe shares the same substance. This substance is emptiness, or we can call Zero. We human being is part of the universe. So we are also composed of emptiness or Zero. By looking deeply into ourselves, we understand this universal substance which is emptiness. Thus we can understand the whole universe. That is why Buddhism says that every one of us has a big treasure.
But how do you perceive this true self? Buddhism is the practice to help you wake up to your true self and live according to your true self. So what is Buddhism practice? Sitting meditation is the most fundamental way of Buddhism practice. It is the base of all Buddhism practice. When you sit down and put everything down, you are just sitting there. When you are not attached to anything, your true self will arise naturally. Your true self is Zero. So in sitting meditation, you are experiencing the zero. One thing I need to mention is that many kinds of feelings and thoughts might happen during the sitting meditation. Don’t be attached to any of them, even good peaceful ones. Put them all down. Some non-Buddhism meditations go after those feelings for some other purpose such as health, strength, peace or even mystical powers. If you want to understand your true self and the fundamental truth of the universe, don’t be attached to those things. Just put them all down. You are just sitting there. When sitting, please be totally awake. You can imagine a big icy rock on your back. Sitting still is very important for your meditation. If you don’t have pre-existing knee injuries, you won’t break your leg by just sitting for a long time. Especially for young people, it is encouraged that you try hard to lengthen the time you can sit still. This is the way you can experience your Buddha nature, which is emptiness. The Buddhism sitting posture is a wonderful posture ancient Indians found out. It might be painful. But it won’t hurt your body in anyway even you sit for a long time. How wonderful is that?
It is not very hard to experience Zero during sitting meditation (actually very hard for most people, since they cannot sit still and they cannot put down thoughts). But it is quite hard to have corresponding experience after we get up from the cushion and begin engaging in the daily activities. When sitting, we are like mirrors, just reflecting whatever comes in. But to live in human form and engage in various activities, we are not just mirrors.
When you are doing activities, plus and minus arise. They produce the self and take care of the self. Our illusionary self is attached to the plus, saying I don’t want to die or I don’t want to take this pain anymore. But we have to die. Thus suffering is generated. Suffering is generated because we don’t want to follow the rule, we don’t want to go back to zero.
The great way is actually not difficult to understand. We are often confused because we are the ones who are experiencing. For a moment, if we look at the whole matter from scientific or objective view, we human being are just doing life activities. Doing life activities is to play, to sing, to dance. Just like a flower booming, we are to make the space more beautiful, more life. So, no thinking. Just play.
If you forgot what is playing, read my blog What is Playing. In playing, plus and minus flow naturally. Playing is in love with the world. In playing, you will experience the same thing you experience during your sitting meditation. So that is your way back to zero.
Of course, Buddhism has other activities to help you transit from sitting meditation to doing life activities. A lot of senior practitioners still don’t understand the purpose of those activities in Buddhism retreats. I won’t tell it now. If you haven’t had enough experience on the cushion, it probably won’t do you any good to tell you now. If you have done enough sitting meditation and have gained real insights, I can tell you given the chance. Once you understand that, that is your true blessing. For now, just remember this: whatever activity you do, just do it. Try to do it better. When you are just doing it, you will resonate with the fundamental truth of the universe.
This is Buddhism practice. It is to help you understand yourself and the subjectivity/objectivity.
But your life is very important. Try to find something that you really enjoy and be good at it. It doesn’t matter much what you do. But whatever you do, work hard at it. Reflect on it. And keep improving yourself. You can try many things. If you make a mistake, you can always come back as long as you don’t kill yourself and others. If you kill life, there is no way back. As moral values are deeply rooted in all cultures, I want to say don’t be too attached to those moral values. Most of those moral values are superficial and some even based on very immoral ground. The principle you need to stick to is: don’t do harm to other people. If you can do that, you should be good enough. Try truly experiencing life. You need to experience the plus and minus in all your life activities.
If you can do above, you should be playing very well in your life even without having ever heard of Buddhism. You should be able to do the activity pretty well and you should have all the important experiences of playing. That is what I did before I came to the states. But to really understand self and resolve life and death, I am afraid you have to start Buddhism practice. At least, you have to start sitting meditation. Of course, you can explore the subjectivity/objectivity by yourself. But I am afraid you will inevitably come to the same methods that Buddhism employed. Once you start your Buddhism practice, your life experience will be very vital for your progress. Everything in Buddhism, after all has to go back to your life. Since you take on the form of human being, you have to have full experience with this form. Only by fully experiencing this human form, can you perceive the fundamental universal substance that is shared by all forms of life.
Buddhism is the best school teaching of mind. Of course, if you can put it all down and don’t have illusion of self, you don’t need Buddhism.