This Zen Proverb regarding Unity and Differentiation sometimes causes some confusion. We are all seeking connection and unity on our path to enlightenment via meditation and spiritual pursuits. Differentiation seems like ego based thinking. Like something we are seeking to leave behind.
Seeking unity through meditation is nothing new. The sense of connectedness and peace that we achieve is one of the most unique and gratifying aspects of meditation that most people experience. Who is it that experiences this aspect though?
Understanding Identity Versus Content
In my own spiritual journey, one of the most mind opening lessons was taught in Tolle’s The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle has been a very influential teacher for me, and his lessons are among those that form a foundation for most of the lessons I take in over time.
The understanding that our lives are best understood as being made up of two parts, Identity and Content, was perhaps the lesson that made my spiritual journey the simplest. It definitely has come into play in every study undertaken since.
Our Identities are comprised of nothing but our consciousness. This is what experiences and witnesses the content of our lives, which comprise all else. It really is that simple.
If asked who we are, each of us tend to reply with a series of titles and roles. We may say that we are a mother, a brother, a son or an aunt. These each accurately describe a relationship that we have to others. They don’t really tell who we are.
Likewise, it’s very common to identify with our careers or avocations such as writer, plumber, artist or gardener. Not one of these accurately describes our Identities as these may come and go, much as the roles we play in the lives of others.
Since these are not who we are, they must therefore fall into the category of content.
Meditation: Connectedness or Unity
Recall the last time you achieved the feeling of connection to the universe during meditation. No doubt it was a very satisfying sensation as it is central to what most seek to achieve in our sessions.
That sense of unity that we feel reminds us that we are a part of the entire universe.
This can be accurately understood to mean that since our consciousness can connect in this manner to all else, our identities are comprised of more than just our individual selves.
As we leave whatever meditative state that we have achieved, we then reflect on the experience and relate it in terms of ourselves as individuals again. Isn’t this ego based thinking, and what we seek to eliminate?
Meditation and Differentiation
In Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, author Katsuki Sekida describes what happens as we enter the meditative state referred to as Samadhi. Simply stated, in this state there is no longer any ego. There is no separate identity from all else.
More importantly for this discussion, he speaks of the realization that one has achieved this state as the point at which the ego once again appears. Interestingly, this isn’t judged as a bad thing but just as a realization that a different state occurs.
There is also a term referring to a state of Walking Samadhi, where you are able to go about your life in an “almost Samadhi” experience. This wouldn’t be possible without the ability to Differentiate between self and others, obviously.
There are meditative experiences having aspects of both Differentiation as well as Unity.
The Balance Between Unity and Differentiation
Experiencing the Unity of our existence, actually requires that we are also able to experience our identities as individual consciousnesses. We are also best able to appreciate our individuality accurately when we acknowledge our Unity with all others.
The balance of this Zen Proverb really does give us a very usable principle on our path to enlightenment: