Several years ago, I started to work on a book I tentatively called “The Dharma according to Groucho.” The first section is called Getting to Not-Know You. My opinion of Not-Knowing is entering a situation without being attached to any concept. This means total openness to the situation, deep listening to the situation.
In zen and in many buddhist groups we relate to a boss whose name was Shakyamuni Buddha. Some groups go back to different buddhas, like Vairocana Buddha, but zen and many groups go back to the founder Shakyamuni Buddha, from about 500 BC. Although he didn’t know that there was a B.C. at the time. And when he had his enlightenment experience, in our tradition at least we say that. he said “How wonderful! How wonderful! Everyone – everything is enlightened!” Except the problem is that most of us are attached to our notions and ideas that we’re not enlightened. Or we’re attached to some kind of notions and ideas. And so we can’t see that state of enlightenment. He said “Everything as it is is enlightened, so what we can’t see or we can’t accept is that everything as it is, is enlightened. So it’s a bit like the fish in the water.
So a fish is swimming in water, and you ask the fish, – “Where’s the water?” and the fish says “What water?”.You say: “You are water!” You know the water goes right through the fish. It’s flowing in and out. The fish doesn’t know that. The fish is attached to this notion that he or she’s some kind of… thing. And doesn’t even know there’s water. Like when we look at an ocean and we ask –What is the ocean? Do we say it’s water? The ocean is a lot of things, right? There’s coral, there’s rocks, there’s mountains underneath – they became Hawaii! They’re all part of the ocean. The ocean is everything. There’s fish, there’s whales, mammals, there’s people swimming, snorkeling, non-snorkeling, deep-sea all kinds of stuff. But we just call it an ocean. And some Jewish comedian is in a boat looking down and says “See the ocean? ….and that’s only the top of it” I mean there’s a lot to this thing. But somehow that evades us, so enlightenment is like that. Enlightenment is the realization and actualization that it’s all just one thing. That “I’m not this little thing”. I’m air, I’m You, I’m rocks – it’s all one thing. But that relationship is so intimate that we don’t see it. So somehow we have to awaken to that intimacy. So “intimacy is like fish and water”. We could replace it with “enlightenment is like us and the things we don’t see”, or “enlightenment is our ideas and our non-ideas”. It’s our knowing and not knowing. Because we’re knowing – because we’re attached to our ideas – doesn’t mean we’re not enlightened. Since it’s all one thing you can’t exclude the knowing state. You don’t exclude the water or the fish. What are the aspects of ourselves that are so intimate that we don’t see? We don’t see that we are all things. We don’t see that the bleeding person in the street is us. It’s so intimate we don’t see it. Our practice is about opening our eyes, awakening. Awakening to who we are. And that’s “getting to not know” us. When we know ourselves we don’t see who we are. When we can let go of all our notions of who we are we can really get into that open space of being – then we’re in that place of Not Knowing, in that intimacy of enlightenment. Now that word itself is very extra. It’s not a necessary word. But somehow we’ve got to use words. Our brain is very dualistic. We need words. Somebody was telling me just recently about a whole new field of therapy – maybe it’s not so new – that says all the problems are in the words. It’s a field that’s saying that without the semantics… that without the words you didn’t have a lot of the problems we’re talking about.
Questioner: Are there no problems in the animal realm then? They don’t call them problems I guess.
Bernie: Yeah, that’s the point. If you take away the words, are the problems problems or are they just things that are happening? Who’s defining them as problems?
Questioner: If we didn’t have words, wouldn’t there just be something else?
Bernie: Yeah, so what you’re saying is if we didn’t have the words – if there weren’t the semantics, we would create some other way of creating our problems maybe. In and of itself, the word “problem” is a problem. Problems are extremely subjective. Extremely subjective – you go outside, you know, this couple with their kids they go outside – they’re going to a picnic. They’ve got all their stuff together and they’re going out to go have a picnic and it starts to thunderstorm. It starts raining like crazy. They have a problem. The farmer on the other hand is looking up at the rain and saying “Wow! Great!” He doesn’t have a problem. So the rain in and of itself is not such a problem. It’s the thoughts we have about it. Or the plans we had -the expectations we had, and then something happens to screw up our expectations a little. But the rain itself is like the intimacy of fish and water. That is, sometimes it’s snow, sometimes it’s sun, sometimes it’s rain. It’s everything that’s happening. Sometimes different cells do funny things in our system and they become for us problems, or for our loved ones they become problems. The cells don’t know it, they’re just doing their thing it seems, and all together it’s the fish in water, I mean you go in that ocean, and there’s fish swallowing fish and whales swallowing fish and people harpooning whales and there’s all kinds of stuff going on.