Commentary by Gendo
"As our insight into the fundamental equality of everything deepens, we develop the ability to manifest as we truly are. This manifesting is called the “path of compassion.” (Joshu Sasaki )
From the perspective of Zen, fundamental equality is knowing the “other” as none other than myself; a proposition echoed in the Christian idea of “loving your neighbor as you love yourself.” Zen teaches that compassion is not simply an aspiration. It is who we are.
Thirteenth century Zen teacher Dogen said: “To study Zen is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be illuminated by all things. To be illuminated by all things is to remove the barrier between self and other:” in other words, compassion.
On examination, ‘self’ is hard to pin down. This head, this hand, this foot are “mine,” they are “me.” But who is observing this? “I am” of course. And yet this “I am” cannot be observed without an observer self that stands apart, an observer that can never be observed! Even the self we call “tree,” means different things to different people, depending on where you live,. And tree changes; grows, drops its leaves and collapses in old age. There are other things that happen in and around the tree, like animals that dropped the seeds that grew there, the mushrooms that help nourish the tree, the water and sunshine that give it life. Are they not also “tree?”
Buddhism concludes that consciousness of ’self’ is an act of discrimination; one thing distinguished from an infinity of interrelated possibilities, possibilities that are ultimately empty of separate identity. The whole picture of any object includes that emptiness from which it is born and to which it returns. We are born from unconsciousness, identifying self and other by the efforts of our parents and teachers, by the desire to live and thrive. And, with death, we return to unconsciousness, empty of self and other.
On examination, this life cycle is reproduced in every moment of awareness. Every instant of consciousness begins with raw sensory awareness empty of identity, empty of self and other, transformed by discriminating mind into separate name and form, “me” here, ”it” there. And just as quickly, some new experience takes its place.
“Buddha” means “waking up,” waking to the dynamic nature of experience, of our experience, also called the ‘Tathagata,’ meaning, ‘thus come, thus gone.’ You and I, and all the selves that comprise our world, are coming into being, and returning to emptiness over and over again, an activity of fundamental equality experienced as compassion.