The Coordination of Understanding and Verification
While the true nature of the self must be experientially verified before it can be actualized, it can be accurately understood prior to verification. Indeed, accurate understanding is almost always a prerequisite to verification. For example, the basic dynamics of the ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ aspects of experience/existence can be accurately understood by learning and applying the methodology presented in the Buddhist scripture known as the Diamond Sutra.
Basically, this method is applied by clearly envisioning a threefold process. First, in focusing attention on our experience we come to recognize that ‘I’ is ‘not-I’ – what we experience as ‘I’ is actually constituted of the world, in particular, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations, and thoughts. Second, we come to recognize that ‘not-I’ is ‘I’ – everything (the world) we experience is ‘I’. Third, we come to recognize that ‘I’ is both ‘I’ and ‘not I’, and ‘not-I’ is both ‘I’ and ‘not I’ – ‘I’ is the subject of existence/experience, ‘not-I’ is the object of existence/experience.
The third recognition is the crucial point, getting stuck at the first or second phase of this process is not uncommon. In the second phase we accurately recognize that ‘everything we experience is us’ – but only with continued attention do we recognize the ‘subjective aspect of us’ has certain characteristics that are entirely different from those of the ‘objective aspect of us.’ When we encounter a sheep, for example, the experience itself constitutes the whole of our existence, the sheep is the ‘objective’ aspect of us, and is ‘enacted’ by us, but insofar as we exist (thus are enabled to enact the sheep), ‘we’ are ‘objective’ aspects of the sheep. The point to get is that our capacities as ‘subjective’ aspects of existence are limited – we have the capacity to enact a sheep as a sheep or not enact it, but we do not have the capacity to enact a sheep as a cat.
An expression of Buddha (i.e. a dharma) is the manifestation of the ‘creative striving’ of the self (the subject of the individual body-mind that is ‘you’). Because the creative striving of a subject can only be enacted by striving with something (i.e. a dharma), manifesting an expression of Buddha as it is (i.e. true Dharma) can never be achieved by a subject that denies or detaches from the world, but only by one that strives creatively with it (i.e. clearly discerns and actualizes it). To authentically strive creatively one must accurately recognize and understand the material they are working with and apply the skills and techniques that are effective for working with it. A Zen practitioner, then, is one that strives creatively, employing the skills and techniques developed and refined through systematic study, practice, and verification to fashion a Buddha realm from the ceaseless advance of experience that constitutes the world as it is.