Who am I?
After my morning burn – one of those hellacious four-minute iron-man workouts – I usually sit and meditate a few moments.
Not too long ago, I was meditating on the following mantra…
I am Hui Neng and I think my thoughts.
Hui Neng is the sixth – also largely considered the greatest – patriarch of Chan Buddhism. Which makes him as about as accessible as Yoda.
In fact, we know relatively little about this seventh century Chinese sage. Most of what we do know is hagiography – only legends of him pounding rice as a servant for years, his illiteracy, his crafting of a poem that revealed his wisdom to the world, his flight from other students of Buddhism who wished to kill him (say, what?) out of jealousy, his disappearance for decades, his reappearance at a monastery in southeast China where he was quickly recruited to become a teacher, and his death there decades later, including the mummification of his body, which persists today.
Indeed, we wouldn’t know about this gentle and thoughtful soul at all were it not for a celebrity monk at court a few hundred years later who “discovered” the forgotten sage and promoted his works so that the monk could bask in reflected glory. Much like Paul used Jesus, Moses used Abraham, countless popes have used Peter and countless Muslim clerics have used Muhammed.
Fair enough. Why would I be meditating on being some guy who lived and taught thirteen centuries ago?
Well, as part of re-embracing my thoughts – expressed in Here and Now – after running from them for years, I needed to select a model to help me get into the mindset. Hui Neng has been a hero for the last decade or more, mostly because of the quality of his thought, so he was a convenient choice.
If that is jarring to hear, consider an alternative. When I was in seminary, we were attending one of the most highly esteemed churches of the Pacific Northwest. The minister, who became my mentor, was wildly popular. Indeed, he was regarded as a modern-day wisdom figure, a mystic, a sage. He was almost worshipped as a living saint. Yet, when alone with me, he would take off the mask and freely reveal to me that much of what I and others so fervently admired and exalted was false. It was empty posturing.
Was my mentor exhausted with the pretense? Maybe. I shall never know the true reason. Needless to say, I left the environment as quickly as I could and never returned. Moreover, that lesson of the dangers of pretending to a wisdom you have not truly earned was well learned. I utterly refuse to make his mistake.
Instead, I prefer to simply be me. Thus, when I needed a shoulder to lean on, I unapologetically turned to one of my heroes.
Until one day, to my surprise, my meditation changed all on its own to the following mantra…
I am Jeff Stilwell and I think my thoughts.
That’s who I am.
Who are you?