During a discussion of identity at last Monday’s dharma study, I realized that the way our Buddhist ancestors have used that word is a bit unique, perhaps. So – I’d like to explore identity with you. We can practice better when we’re more intimately acquainted with the various facets of identity.
When we consult a dictionary, it turns out that “identity” has two opposite meanings.
One meaning points us toward uniqueness. “Identity” is the characteristics that, together, make something a distinctive, recognizable individual. I have a driver’s license that purports to certify my “Real Identity.” Or at least the identity I’ve been assigned by a governmental agency. We usually think of our identities as those things which make us different – our race/ethnicity, education, appearance, and such. Our identity is what makes us a being different from all others.
But what exactly is this unique identity? Most of the attributes we think of as defining us - age, gender, appearance, family status, the work we do - change. Our identities change with our situation, too – they might be quite different for family than for workmates. Maybe our storytelling skills are a vital part of our identity to our kids but totally irrelevant to our co-workers. As we age we are no longer as tall as we once were, nor are our faces the same as when we were twenty. Some elements of identity are simply decorations we hang on ourselves – education or profession, for instance. Some we manipulate with cosmetics, clothing, and surgery. This unique identity is a constantly flowing thing. It can even be something chosen by others for us, as happens when we join the military or a monastery.
Identity has another definition which is the opposite of the first. Things are identical if they are exactly the same. This is the mathematical definition. It’s also what we mean by identity in Buddhism. To say that I and the universe are one identity means that the universe exists entirely in me and I exist entirely as the vastness of the universe. I am it and it is me. We’re one thing, all together.
A philosopher might be bored by this. What more is there to say when one thing is exactly another? It’s just not exciting and it leads nowhere. Perhaps this form of identity is a bit dull and useless to think about, but it’s very interesting to live.
What does it mean that I am the universe? Or that other beings are exactly myself? Let’s just sit with that for a moment, feeling our bodies and minds as the entirety of all of reality. We can feel this in zazen. Sitting here with the sun streaming through the window, I am a hologram of everything that is – all of it is here in me – vast space and time, sun, other people, the apple I ate for lunch. Without the universe there is no me. And I am the universe. I was here before I was born, in the elements and energy that have existed since the beginning and have come together into this form and these actions. After I die it will all still be there, interweaving with other elements, becoming other forms, functioning in other ways. In physics it’s known as the Law of Conservation of Mass and the Law of the Conservation of Energy.
When I finish this talk and go on to other things, how do I live as the entire universe? Identity means that our actions are the universe, too. Who we are and what we do and say create reality anew in each moment. Of course, we’re not alone in this. This cat sleeping beside me and the buckthorn tree outside the window are also creating the universe. The tree is making oxygen and cooling the air. The cat is giving the world carbon dioxide and a sense of wellbeing. I’m producing words, and those create the universe anew by their effect on others. All our words and actions create the universe in each moment. Constantly, no matter what we’re doing or whether we’re tree, cat, or person, we are creating. So, right now, let’s ask, “What do I want to create?” Or, maybe, “What kind of universe do I want to be?”
Let’s be a universe where all things can be whole and at peace by remembering our identity with reality rather than our identity as a separate, fictional self.
You may have heard about the derecho that hit Cedar Rapids on August 10. Please know that we are all safe and the Center’s building sustained only minor damage. The insurance will pay for a new roof, a new storm window, and some soffit work. The tree in front of our neighbor’s house was blown down, taking the street light with it and the tree in front of the Center had a large limb split off. The city has taken care of those, since they’re on the city’s right-of-way. We will have to pay for work on two of our trees that had significant storm damage.
For stepping forward to haul branches, cut limbs, and contribute to our derecho fund. The place is in good shape, and we have enough to pay the deductible on the insurance and for the tree work and any other incidental expenses.
We’re deeply grateful to all of you for thinking of us.
September 16th: Intro to Zazen on Zoom
7:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
The Zen Center offers a one-evening introduction to Zen Buddhism and zazen the third week of every month. This includes a talk about Zen, zazen instruction, a short period of zazen and an opportunity for questions. Email us for the link, and we'll send it along.
September 20th: Virtual All Day Sitting with dharma talk from Daigaku Rumme
5:00 a.m. - 4:40 p.m.
dharma talk at 9:45 a.m.
If you haven’t attended on Sunday before, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a Zoom link so you can participate in all or part of the day’s activities as your schedule allows.
Born in Mason City, Iowa, Daigaku was ordained in Japan in 1978 at Hosshinji , where he practiced for nearly twenty-eight years with his teacher, Harada Sekkei Roshi. He returned to the United States in early 2003, to become an administrative secretary on the staff of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center In San Francisco, where he worked until 2010.
In April 2010, Daigaku moved to Los Angeles to become the Director (Sokan) of the Soto Zen Buddhism North America Office and Chief Priest of Zenshuji Soto Temple. Five years later he moved to St. Louis to become the founder and Resident Priest at the Confluence Zen Center.
He is married to Kathleen Copple Rummé.
September 26th: Work Day
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.
We are beginning our monthly work days again, this time with social distancing and masks. If you forget your mask, we can supply you with one. Hand sanitizer will also be available. For everyone’s protection, we ask that people
Keep a distance of at least six feet from each other.
Wear a mask indoors.
Use hand sanitizer upon arrival.
Masks will not be required when working outside at least six feet from others.
If you are not wearing a mask outdoors, please cover coughs or sneezes with an arm.
If you wish, you can bring your own water cup or bottle.
We will be doing garden work. Bring your enthusiasm and come in something you’re comfortable working in. If you see a project you’d like to work on, that can be arranged, too.
Work is the Buddha’s practice. Let’s come and share it together.
We’re live-streaming our Sunday activities over Zoom. If you’d like to join us, please send in a request. You can participate either with a video or an audio-only link.
9:00 – 9:40 am – Zazen
9:45 – 10:15 – Dharma talk
10:15 – Check-in and discussion (bring your tea)
Sit with us Sunday
If you aren’t able to connect by Zoom, you can still connect. Please sit with us at the regular time anyway. If you’d like, you can receive a summary of the dharma talk later in the day. You can get on the list by clicking here. Dharma talks will be posted on the web site during the following week, usually on Tuesday.
Zuiko is sitting our regular weekday schedule. Please sit with her wherever you are. Zazen is definitely good for connecting with reality in a sane way.
9:00 – 9:40 am
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
12:15 – 12:55 pm
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
6:30 – 7:10 pm
Other ways of connecting
Monday night dharma
Our Monday night dharma discussion group is continuing through Zoom. We’re presently discussing Shohaku Okumura’s Living by Vow. If you’re interested in joining, please contact us.
Tell about your experience
Post something on the blog page on the website. This is a place where people can exchange their adventures in practicing in a pandemic and support each other’s practice. If you’d like to be part of that, send us a request and we’ll send the link. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Work in the dirt
Things are growing rapidly out in the yard and there’s always weeding and pruning to do. If you’d like a little fresh air, soil, and sunshine practice, email us and arrange a time to come over. Zuiko will show you where the tools are and what to do. There are projects for all abilities. Kids are welcome.
Other Sitting & Sangha Opportunities
Bloomington-Normal, Illinois group isn't meeting at the moment but you can connect with them at email@example.com.
Des Moines - Daishin McCabe and Jisho Siebert lead half-day sittings and other events online for the moment. For more information contact Daishin.