This time of the year we spent a lot of time harvesting the last vegetables in the fields. Some days ago we cut the buck wheat, then we were collecting the last pumpkins, and the yams, daikon radish, carrots, chinese cabbage will soon follow. Meanwhile, others are out in the woods cutting pine trees, which will keep us warm during the winter.
Usually, the first half of November can be sunny and cloudy, while the second half is cloudy and rainy. In December the rain turns to snow, so now we are in the midst of a “last spurt” before the masses of snow (some years we had up to four meters) will pile up. The constructions that can be seen in the video above are part of the protection against the snow.
Last month I uploaded a video in which I asked myself the question “Who am I”:
I had the following exchange about it with a friend from Denmark:
“A while back you (Muho) posted a series of videos talking about the question “who am I?”. I have been trying to think about this question. And I don’t understand it. I am under evaluation by a psychiatrist who says that I have a kind of the diagnosis Aspergers, and that I don’t have an intuitive understanding of words. I am not sure what that means, or if I even accept the idea of a psychiatric diagnose. I go to work, try to do that as well as possible. I like zazen, even when I don’t like it. I try to be a good partner to my girlfriend. Other than that I don’t really know or want anything…and then the world rushes in and categorizes everything with signs. I know it may seem smallminded compared to the suffering of many other people, or the rural and hard life of Antaiji. I should be thankful for having food in my belly, clothes on my body and a place to practise zazen. And I am, but it is hard to keep that in mind with all the noise of society and the echoes of it in my head. As always I do not expect a reply (weren’t even a proper question), I know that you are busy at Antaiji and my musings are not important. Only thing that matters is doing my job (duty to society) produce as little suffering for other people and do as much zazen as possible.
thank you for your feedback.
Let it put me like this:
Let us suppose that someone asked me: Who are you?
Now I could answer: I am Muho, I am 48 years old, I am German, I am the abbot of Antaiji etc.
But none of this would be really to the point. For example, my wife’s name is Tomomi, she is 39 years old, female, Japanese etc, but that does not describe the difference between her and me. Or, if I had an exact twin who had also my name, than he would be called Muho, he would also be 48 years old, be German, and maybe even be the co-abbot of Antaiji. But: Although everything that seems to define me also applies to him, he would not be me, just as my wife is not me.
So: Who am I? I am not the name, the age, the profession, the nationality. The only thing that really defines me, is the fact that I am – for whatever reason – ME, and no-one else.
Why is that? And again: Who am I, being definied by nothing but the fact that I am I?
Best to you,
Muho (whoever that is)
Thanks for the swift reply.
So the answer to the question “who am I?” can only be “I am me”?
And that (as I perceive it) brings us back to that the only truth that there can be is a tautology (in western philosophical/logic terms).
My question would be, why even take the question seriously? Does it even have to have an answer? And can there only be one answer?”
My question would be, why even take the question seriously?
When somebody else asks “Who am I?” you can not really understand their question, because you do not know that “I” that they are asking for. Only if you ask the question yourself, can you understand. But for that, you have to take it seriously. But: You do not have to ask the question. Therefore you do not have to take it seriously either.
Does it even have to have an answer?
No. Unless we take the tautology as the answer.
And can there only be one answer?
No. Maybe there are many answers. Maybe there is no answer at all. Maybe there is only a question. Maybe even the question does not exit.
This is my 4th attempt at a reply.
I do not understand when you Muho ask the question, and I don’t understand when you Muho reply.
On the one hand you just seem to be shuffling words around, on the other you seem to experience something real, which you only can point at for someone that is not you. At this moment, I can only see you pointing, I cannot see what you are pointing at.”
This is strange, but it seem that some people have this experience.
For me, the question is indeed real. Let me phrase it like this:
I could have been born into this world as anyone else. I could have been born as my wife, as my kids, as my neighbor. I could even have been born as you and reading this email at the other side of globe.
What does it mean that I could be you? It does not mean that Muho could be J., that would make no sense. No, it means that I could be J. rather than Muho. What would happen to you if I became J.. Well, I do not know. Maybe you would became Muho?
So, what would change if I were J. rather than Muho? Well, I would not see the world through Muho’s eyes, I would not think the thoughts in Muho’s head, I would not be typing this on the keybord. I am sure ghat Muho would still be seeing the world as he is, think what he thinks and types what he types. But it would be just him, not me beng him. Rather I would be J., see the world through J.’s eyes, think the thoughts in J.’s eyes, read the words on J.’s computer screen. That would be a big difference for me! And you might see the world though Muho’s eyes, think his thoughts, and type these words into the keyboard (which in reality, you being J., are reading right now – or so I being Muho do suppose).
I could also imagine a world in which both Muho and J. exist, but I do not exit. Muho would still be doing what he is doing, J. is still doing what he is doing, but neither would be me. I would not be anywhere, and – at least for me – it is, as if the world would not exit at all. But in reality, for me, the world exists. It is Muho’s world. So who am I?
I seem to be not the same as Muho, because I could theoretically be J., while Muho can not theoretically be J.. Still, as my world unexplainably is Muho’s world, all I can say is that I am Muho, for whatever reason I do not know.
Best wishes, from Muho to J. and simultaneously from me to you as well!
“A couple of thoughts:
1) According to the psychiatrist that I have been seeing for a few months, I have light autism/aspergers. Apparantly I do not have an intuitive understanding of words/language. Hence that may be why I don’t understand “who am I”. We may have a completely different experience of “who am I” via words/signs. Language has always been a problem for me…and I can’t explain why since that involves language!
All I can say is: I don’t like words. I wish that I could live without them, and that they weren’t in my head already.
2) You are using words incorrectly. Or rather I don’t understand the way you use words in relation to the question “who am I?”. To me it seems like asking: “what colour is the number 15?”. Just because that one has made a internally semantic consistent sentence, that makes sense grammatically, does not mean that it refers to a state outside of the sentence. One could ask why such a sentence is even possible, and it’s hard for me to give a concise answer to that at the moment.
3) Your question and answer is a profound truth based on many years of Zazen…and I do not see it yet.”
I think you have a point there, but rather than “What colour is the number 15?” it is more like the question “What colour is this clour (red)?”. And the aswer is, “Well, red of course. What did you think?” But then the original questioner might reply: “Yes, I know that this colour is called is red. But rather, I mean what is the “redness” of red. What is the redness of that colour that only I can see?”
In the case of the question “Who am I?”, of course the answer is “I, the one who puts the question”. But the funny thing for me is the fact that at least it feels like there are two different aspects of me, the guy sitting here and asking the question (his name is Muho, he is German, 48 years old), and the sense of being myself, even if “I” were to wake up as J. in Denmark one morning. I would still be me, even if I would be J.. Like in the case of Kafka’s beetle. At least in thought, it is possible that “I” wake up as a beetle. What is this “I”. It seems to be different from Muho, because Muho can not become a beetle.
There is a Japanese philosopher called Hitoshi Nagai who separates these two meanings by putting them as I and ‘I’. Here is a link to some of his texts:
And this might be of interest as well:
“Thank you for the link to Nagais’ interview. I tried to read it on the way to work, but I find the interviewer very annoying, so couldn’t finish it. Anyway I think, that I got the general idea of what he and you are saying.
Qualia. You are talking about qualia, redness of red or the I of me. If you had said that in the beginning, I would have had no problem in understanding your question and your answer…as 3rd person if course.
Qualia is a disputed term. As far as I know Daniel Dennett (Australian philisopher with interest in consciusness) rejects it. I don’t claim to completely understand hid reasoning. But I would just like to point out, that there are, for lack of a better word, professional philosophers that dispute the term. Now this doesn’t mean, that they are right. It just, to me, means that what may seem like a general experiental concept is perhaps not that general.
This brings me to my points 1-2-3. They are perhaps all related. I may indeed have fundamentally different experience, or lack, of qualia. And that may influence point 2. The language that you use may seem incorrect to me. To put it another way: you may think that you are saying one thing, but I think that you are saying something else. And finally point 3: you have more and different experience (access to a flesh and blood teacher, tradition etc.) of Zazen than me.
1-2-3 taken together makes for a gap. Maybe that gap can be closed. But when I look around the world, I don’t think so. This is why my mind always return to the idea and practise of Zazen. Truth in words is at best a tautology, but when we sit Zazen (shikantaza way of course) even as different people, we are expressing the same truth. The words we speak outside of Zazen, will always be conditioned and relative. They are all real and true, but we cannot (mostly) see them as truth. But that is just practise.
It probably seems silly for a layman amateur to express himself thusly. Perhaps I am just rambling, but I have to say something so as not to become complacent in my practise. ”
It is an intersting question if the reason why the doubt “Why am I me?” makes sense to me while you say it makes no sense to you has actually to do with the way we relate to language. In this text that I am re-reading right now, Nagai says:
“What we can clearly see here is the conflict between the linguistic world established through language and the prelinguistic world which cannot be expressed by language. This may sound surprising, but the source of the mystery of ‘consciousness’, in fact, lies in a conflict of that kind. If this problem is not involved, there is nothing particularly puzzling about consciousness…
What manifests itself clearly here is, again, the conflict between the linguistic world established through language and the prelinguistic world which cannot be expressed by language… The conflict between the linguistic world and prelinguistic world is inexpressible by language. It seems that that is true at a higher level in the case of ‘I’ than in the case of ‘now’. However, if language is regarded as what is used to communicate something to oneself – that is, as what is essentially used to write a diary – rather than as what is used to talk with others, the situation is precisely reversed. If I, at present, write in my diary (under a certain date), ‘The true present is only here’, I, reading the diary at any time, could not agree to that. The assertion, in that sense, could not gain approval by anyone. On the other hand, if I write in my diary, ‘I am the only true self’, I at any time could agree to that. That is, no one would, in principle, object to the assertion.”
“100% agree with Nagai. It’s the gap between words and not-words that presents the problem. Thank you for the quote, it expresses my frustration very well. And indeed words used as to TALK to someone vs. words as reality signifier. “