Monday, February 17, 2020

The Uncarved Block

The Tao Te Ching mentions the concept of the “uncarved block” several times. Like a sculptor contemplating a block of wood before work has begun on it, we are to contemplate our original nature before time and space, genetics and upbringing, worked on us. Zen has the concept of one’s original face. A Zen koan says, “Contemplate your original face before you were born” or “Imagine your face before your parents were born.” Christian scripture has the concept of our primordial nature that was known by God and chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world.”

When I was a young man working in my grandfather’s hardware store, an old-timer remarked to me, “I knew you before you were a glint in your father’s eye.” At the time I chuckled at the thought, but it has always stuck with me. I have often applied it to my Heavenly Father. I was known before I was. My individual earthly identity composed of body and mind is simply a passing phenomenon. It is not my essential nature. It is a wave in the ocean, a whirl in a stream, a breeze in the trees.

I practice a daily spiritual discipline of meditation. One of my most common meditations is to simply rest in my true nature without thoughts. My true nature is what I was before I was conceived in my mother’s womb. It is who I was before there were humans, before life evolved on earth, before our solar system was formed, before the Big Bang banged the universe into existence. That is who – or better yet – what I am. That is who I am after I die, after the elements of my body return to the earth and my psyche dies with my brain. That is what I am now.

“I am who I am,” is the divine revelation that Moses received on the slope of Mount Horeb. That understanding changed his life and the course of Near Eastern religion. This revelation gave birth to the people of Israel and was forever was imprinted on Western religious understanding of divine identity. In India this revelation took the form of the statement: “That thou art,” which is at the heart of the Upanishads. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the psalm of the Sons of Korah commands us, “Be still and know that I am God.”

It is the same truth. We are. But we are not who we think we are. We are not what we think. It is not about thinking at all. Not about doctrines or theology or religion. It is not about feeling or willing or acting. I am. I am who I am. We are who we are. We are what we have always been. We are the uncarved block, the original face, which we were before the foundation of the world. I am what I am, what I was, what I will be, what I am now. Before and beyond time, I am.

This awareness is accessible in quiet meditation. It is not a “spiritual experience” that is turned on or off. It is more basic than that. It is the foundation of all experience. It is direct perception. It is awareness. There is neither subject nor object in this reality. Consciousness. Being. It is that from which individual awareness emerges. This is who we are. All of us together. This is the One before and beyond the many. This is the uncarved block. That thou art.

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