Student: Teacher, I hear you when you say treating thoughts and feelings as if they were not mine is practicing not-self. And as not-self, I can let them go as they arise as I let go the thoughts and feelings in others that have no pull on me. But I’m hungry! I have been watching this hunger for a day now, not eating, not holding on to the thought of food in the face of this persistent gnawing in my belly, and still the thoughts of food come up and my belly is loud and obnoxious now! Is this the practice of not-self? Do I just starve myself to death?
Teacher: Not death, no. If you die without waking up, what good is any of this? Then even I have failed you, complicit as I am in your delusion and liberation.
Student: OK, OK. Not death. I think I’d eat by then. But how is this not-self if all I see is the continual arising of self? All I feel is my belly chewing away at itself – is that awakening?
Teacher: Not this and not that. Both this and that together. Obstruction and Path – not two, not one either. Hunger and release from hunger are not separate and not the same.
Student: I’m not following you – partly because I’m hungry but also because you are not making any sense.
Teacher: What if your child is hungry, what do you do?
Student: I make her food.
Teacher: Simple. No thinking. Obstruction and path work together in harmony. And so when you are hungry, what do you do?
Student: I used to eat. Today I am starving. I am not sure what I am supposed to do anymore.
Teacher: Obstruction and path in disharmony. What is your vow? Your aspiration?
Student: To practice, to wake up, and serve all beings as if they were Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Teacher: OK, but sometimes to help others, you have to help yourself. And when you help yourself to help others, when you practice eating as eating for the body that is not just your body, you are practicing not-self. The hunger becomes freedom from hunger and you more freely embrace the hunger.
Student: But if I eat I take food away from others and that is selfish.
Teacher: Look around you! Is there anyone here asking for your food? You only deprive your idea of someone wanting food, which is no deprivation at all. What if you starve and get caught up in your hunger? How can you be present to the world in front of you?
Student: What is that world?
Teacher: Eat and find out. Just enough to see clearly….