Wednesday, February 11, 2015


‘Who am I?’ Have you ever asked yourself that question? What was your answer?

Here’s a famous Zen story on the point. I often use this story in my counseling work. What it says about who we really are forms the cornerstone of Buddhist psychology as well as other forms of psychotherapy such as self illusion therapy.

A distraught man approached the Zen master. ‘Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self!’ The teacher just looked away without responding. The man began to plead and beg, but still the master gave no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turned to leave. At that moment the master called out to him by name. ‘Yes!’ the man said as he spun back around. ‘There it is!’ exclaimed the master.

When someone sees you they see you, that is, the person that you are. However, when you see and experience yourself you do not see and experience the person that in truth you are. Instead, you see and experience any one or more of a number of self-images held in your mind. At one point in time you may see and experience the ‘little me’ or the ‘frightened me’ or the ‘inferior me.’ At another point in time you may see and experience the ‘confident me.’ These ‘me’s’ are nothing more than self-images in your mind. They are images felt and experienced as real, that is, as the real person that you are. Because there is a feeling component to these images many of them can be quite strong and persistent over time. (Their persistency over time only reinforces the mistaken belief that these images are really you, and also makes change seem very difficult indeed.) However, none---I repeat none---of these felt self-images are real. They are not the real person that you are. Having said that, these ‘me’s’ constitute in whole or in part your sense of who you are. Whichever image is most dominant in your mind at any point in time will constitute your sense of ‘me’ (that is, what to you, in you, is you---at least at that point in time).

At the risk of repeating myself, while you experience these ‘me’s’ as real, the truth is they are just images in your mind that you feel and experience, by choice or otherwise, as you. Now, as I’ve already said, these self-images will change over time but some are more durable than others. Take, for example, a person whose parents constantly told her, when growing up, that she was a failure. It is more probable than not that this person will grow up with self-images such as ‘little me’ and ‘useless me.’ So, what can she do in order to overcome her sense of self as a failure? First, she needs to know that it is possible to let go of these false selves (note: they are false because they are not who she really is). Secondly, she will change for the better---sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly---when she learns to live her life relying solely upon the power of her personhood, which is a power-not-oneself that we all have. Then, and only then, will she come to experience herself as a person among persons as opposed to one or more of those false and illusory selves with which she so closely identified herself for so many years in the past. In short, the woman hands over---that is, surrenders her false selves---to what she, as a person, can do.

Now, back to our Zen story. The distraught man wants to discover, that is, experience, his ‘true self.’ The teacher refuses to answer the man. The man pleads and begs, but to no avail. Finally, giving up in frustration---note those words ‘giving up,’ for they are so very important---the man turns to leave. At that moment---yes, at that exact moment---the master calls out to him by name. (The teacher was very smart, for he realized that the man had 'let go' and was therefore now ready to know and experience the truth.)  ‘Bill Taylor?’, he says.
‘Yes!’, says the man as he turns back around. ‘There it is!’ exclaimed the master.

You see, for the very first time in his life this man came to see and experience himself as he really was---as a person among persons. He experienced enlightenment. That means he---woke up! Yes, he woke up to what in truth he really was. He was not those many
false selves (‘me’s) which in the past he mistakenly believed to be the real person that he was.

This is a very powerful story. Never forget it. More importantly, never forget the ‘moral’ of the story, namely, that what to you, in you, is you is NEVER what in truth you are.

Real personal transformation come when we 
get real, that is, when we start to think, act and live from our personhood as a person among persons. And remember this---there is no human problem that is not common to other persons among persons.


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