In our practice we just sit with our bodies and minds in the zendo, and we aim to practice the Buddha Way in our activities outside the zendo as well. In practicing the Buddha Way there is no separation between the self that is studying the self and the self that is studied by the self; self is studying the self, and the act of studying is also the self. There is no such thing as a self that is separate from our activity. Dogen Zenji defined this self as jijuyu-zanmai, a term that Sawaki Kodo Roshi described as “self ‘selfing’ the self.'”
To illustrate this point we can think of the relationship between a runner and the act of running. When we think of this, we realize that no runner is separate from the act of running; a runner and running are the same thing. If the runner becomes separate from running, then the runner is not running. If this is the case, the runner can no longer be called a runner since a runner is defined as “one who runs.” The great ancient Indian master Nagarjuna presented this example as part of his illustration of emptiness and the negation of a fixed, permanent, fundamental essence that “owns” the body and mind.
Running as well as sitting, eating, drinking, and breathing are very ordinary things. But when we say, “There is no ‘I’ other than running” or “running without a runner,” we think we are discussing something mysterious. But this view of the teachings of people such as Nagarjuna or Dogen is mistaken. These teachers are trying to express a very ordinary thing in a truly realistic way without fabrication. To do this they use words that negate themselves in a way that reveals the reality beyond our thoughts.
When we practice the Buddha Way, there is no self, no Buddha Way, no others. This is because self, Buddha Way, and others work together as one. What we call “our actions” are actually the work done by both self and other beings and objects. For example, when a person drives a car, the person thinks “he” as subject drives “the car” as object. But in reality we cannot drive without the car; we can only become a driver or be driven with the aid of the car, and the car can only express its full function as a vehicle of transportation when someone drives it. Our cars affect us both psychologically and materially as well. We will drive different cars in different ways, for example, depending upon the style or quality of the car. The feelings and attitude of a person driving a cheap old truck carrying a load of junk will likely be totally different from the feelings and attitude that person will have driving a luxurious new car carrying a VIP. A car can also provide us with the ability to travel quickly and conveniently, yet if it breaks down, we may have to make more effort than usual to get where we need to go repair, fuel, and insurance costs can exert an added financial stress on our lives and can even feel burdensome. So in a sense the car own us and shapes us as much as we own and control it, and the action of driving can actually be manifested only by a person and a car working together. This reality of mutual influence and interconnectedness is true not only for a “special” practice done by a group of people called “Buddhists”; in truth this is the way all beings are working within the circle of interdependent origination.
The Buddha Way includes both self and objects. The Buddha Way includes both people sitting and the sitting they do. They are actually one thing. This is very difficult to explain, yet it is an obvious reality of our lives. This reality is not some special state or condition that is only accomplished by so-called “enlightened” people. Even when we don’t realize it, self, action, and object are working together as one reality, so we don’t need to train ourselves to make them into one thing in our minds. If self, action, and object were really three separate things, they could not become one. The truth is that they are always one reality, regardless of what we do or think.