And yet, though we strain
against the deadening grip of daily necessity,
I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it, then?
Is it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplayed melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances,
or streets, as they wind through time?
Is it the animals, warmly moving,
or the birds, that suddenly rise up?
Who lives it, then? God, are you the one
who is living life?
It was only after I finished studying history (or to give it another name, ‘Western notions of cause-and-effect’) and began to study Zen Buddhism that some kind of meaningful answer began to occur to me. No one could resolve the question of free will versus determinism because, fundamentally, it was the wrong question. The real question was not: Do I have a choice? Rather it was: Who is the ‘me’ that’s asking if I have a choice?
If there is no ‘I’ to make a choice, then there is only one process going on — that of existence as a whole. No one — no fate, or brute circumstance — is pushing you around because there is no one to be pushed around. Or to put it another way, you are both simultaneously the one who is doing the pushing and the one who is being pushed. To think of this process in another way, consider your breathing: are ‘you’ breathing, or is breathing happening to you?
Nods sagely, strokes beard.