WE ARE NOT IT. BUT IN TRUTH. IT IS US. IT IS YOU. IT IS ME.
James Ishmael Ford
A Facebook friend invited people to share their favorite brief quote from scriptures. Something that touches the heart deeply. While he is a Christian minister, he explicitly made sure the invitation extended to the wider company of faiths. He was reaching for sayings that were deeper into the bones than memorized. For him it was “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son. And whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” As he said he knew this line from before he could memorize. It was a truth that was identical to the molecules in his body.
Of course, he is a Christian, and perhaps a larger majority of his social media friends belong to that lovely family. So, pretty quickly passages from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures were posted. It’s a progressive crowd and there felt to my read to be a tilt toward action. Among those, “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.” And, bridging the heart and the body, “What does God ask of you? Only to do what is just, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Another popular one was Jesus’ own apparent summation of his way putting together passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Others were visceral and ecstatic. “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” Another, “Blessed are you, Divine, life of all worlds.” Another, “God is love.” And somehow, I was especially touched by “All who are hungry, come eat.”
So, what was the first thing that popped in my mind. A sort of unbidden citation? I wrote, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
And I pretty much immediately realized it just sat there. To a crowd unformed by the literature of Mahayana Buddhism, or specifically Zen, it is two abstractions juxtaposed. While those other citations got all sorts of love, those emojis, mainly of hearts, or hugging, or whatnot, the minister dutifully gave me a thumb’s up. Basically, the attendance prize of social media posting.
I mentioned this to a friend who immediately said her choice would be, “We are not it, but in truth it is us.”
That was it. “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form” is a metaphysical foundation. Something to be known. But, in the living of it all, in the heart experience of it all, “You are not it, but in truth it is you.” My dream heart captured a line within the poem Jewel Mirror Samadhi. I find it captures the vitality of our experience, it suggests just how alive it is and with it, us. Me. You. We are constantly veiling and unveiling mysteries.
The poem is commonly attributed to Dongshan Liangjie, a 9th century Chan master and founder of the Caodong (Soto in Japanese) school. Dongshan is also credited with the poetic map of awakening’s faces, the Five Ranks.
The Jewel Mirror is commonly chanted in contemporary Japanese Soto temples and monasteries. I’ve recited it thousands of times. For me that line jumbles with a number of things. Questions. Intimations. What is nonduality? What is it not? And what does it mean for us as spiritual practitioners, as people walking the intimate way?
For Reiho Masunaga the line goes: “You are not him; he is actually you.” For William F Powell the line goes: “You are not him, but he is clearly you.” For Thomas Cleary the line goes: “You are not it; It is you.” And then from the recesses of my dream life the official Soto translation: “You are not it, but in truth it is you.” Echoed for me in my friends slight adaptation, “We.” “We are not it, but in truth it is us.”
It is impersonal in the same way as form and emptiness and their identity. Pointers to rhythms of the universe. And, it is intimate as our jugular vein, we, you, I.
On the spiritual way, at least as it is taught within the Zen schools, and captured in the ten Ox Herding Pictures, we come to the loss of all our ideas about ourselves and the world. We tumble into the great empty. Then we find a reconstruction, a rebirth. It manifests first as nature itself, just the world, or rather the worlds, and stars, and all the great mess of the universe. Then we return as a part of this great play of things. We are ancient and we are new. We are the same as we’ve always been. Caught up in our wounds and longings. But the healing is also found. Found as nothing other than the being we are. That is you. That is me.
I am not it. My ideas. My desires. My hurt. My longing. My joy. I feel I own them. But I’m wrong. They own me. They play out as me, and my part of the great web of things.
But, in truth. A line that does not occur in most English versions, but which I’ve been told is there in the Chinese original. I find that important. Even if it becomes a comma or a semi-colon, “in truth” is a moment of turning. A realization. The great lacuna within which all things birth and die. Truth. A lovely word. Even if it’s not there. It is felt. It is there. Here.
It is you.
Voltaire once said “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere.” Another line that could be added to that collection if we take our word “scripture” as widely as it should be taken.
That. This. You are not God. But, in truth, in truth, God is you.
The secret of the nondual. The secret of our lives. In some as true as can be way I knew this line from before I could memorize. It is a truth that is identical to the molecules in my body.
Of course, this is the invitation of the spiritual way, in all it’s different flavors. The hidden and constantly revealed universalism. We may wander for a lifetime in quest of this intimate thing. Far away or nearer than near, if we’re just a little lucky we find it. And then when we find this intimate truth as ours, we immediately return to the world. Like Dorothy waking from a dream into a dream.
Now we wander freely. As freely as a fox living its five hundred lives. We bring a good word to this hurting world. We reach out a hand as we can. We are the infinite itself. But we are just this moment, with all the limitations being a moment brings with it.
We are not it. But in truth. It is us. It is you. It is me.