“An ambitious long-time meditator comes to see a Zen teacher. As soon as the student sits down, the teacher asks, “What’s the basic human problem?” The student ponders this, then answers, “We’re not awake.” The teacher says, “Yes, but those are just words. You’re just thinking.” And ringing the bell, he sends the student away.
Perturbed, the student continues to ponder, “What is the basic human problem?”, determined to figure it out. A week later he returns. The teacher says, “Well, have you figured out what the basic human problem is?” The student replies, “Yes. The basic human problem is that we think too much. We’re identified with our thinking. We believe our thoughts.” The teacher answers, “Again, you’re just thinking. You have to see the basic human problem yourself.” The student leaves feeling very dejected.
Wanting to find the right answer, the student pulls out his Zen books to read and study. When he returns to see the teacher, he’s almost strutting, he’s so aware he knows the answer to this question. Seeing the state he’s in, the teacher asks, “What’s the basic human problem?” And the student says, “There is no problem!” He’s so happy with his answer. The teacher just stares at him and says, “Then what are you doing here?” In that moment the student instantly deflates. His shoulders drop, his head drops; he feels totally humiliated. Peering at him, the teacher asks, “What are you experiencing right now?” The student, without even looking up, says, “I just feel like crawling into a hole.” At this point the teacher says to him, “If you can fully experience this feeling, then you’ll understand the basic human problem.”
“The Substitute Life” pp.47-48
I have the strangest relationship with this (wonderful) book by Ezra Bayda, Being Zen - Bringing Meditation to Life. I carry it around with me in my bag, thinking I’ll read it on the metro, or when waiting for an appointment; I read parts of it when scrunched up in the bath (more the deep basin of the shower), read a section, then say, no I know this, to start another part and have the same response: no, I’ve read this already, I know this. I then put the book to one side, add it to the pile, I never seem to finish it, but still I keep returning to it.
Related article: Groundlessness (Pema Chödrön's 'When things fall apart') & Tim Buckley's 'Hallucinations' published May, 22 2017