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Self and World

At the very beginning of the GENJOKOAN ("Actualization of Enlightenment") Dogen tells us that when the self expands to fill the world, we are deluded; when the world comes in to fill the self, there is enlightenment. How does the self expand into the world? Thought, opinion, fear, expectation.... How does the world fill the self? Sight and sound, all the phenomenal world being just as it is, and also, thought, opinion, fear, expectation, etc. For we are part of the phenomenal world as well, and when we observe and label our thoughts, we see them as just one more thing that's happening. Inside and outside don't make any difference, there's just this moment's experience, just this moment's experience, and so on, endlessly.

The other day, someone was telling me about an experience she had riding the subway. At first she had all the typical New Yorker's reactions to the crowding and the noise, the shoving and pushing that goes on everyday at rush hour. And then, for whatever reason, for a moment, she just noticed the light on people's faces. And for that moment, all the thought & opinion & reaction & complaint that she had been feeling was gone. Not even a thought that the light or the faces were beautiful; just looking at the light on people's faces.

But moments like these are not the end of the story. What do these moments teach us about who we are that we can translate into how we behave after such a moment passes (as they always do)? A simple answer might be that we shift from focusing on how we're being treated (or how we're feeling about it), to how we are behaving, how we are treating others on that subway.