Me, Mine and Myself

Many years ago when I worked for a Japanese IT company, I remember they had a campaign for personalising their mobile-phone background design. The campaign was running under the working title “Me, Mine and Myself”. Being a proud owner of a Nokia 6150 for a couple of month at that time, I completely failed to understand what it all was about. The campaign eventually was a failure in Europe, as far as I know. Japanese technology was once more decades ahead of it’s time.

“Me, Mine and Myself” – isn’t this the ultimate source for all headache in the world? Wasn’t it the most important realisation of the person we today call the Buddha: that there is no such thing as a fixed self? Next to duhkha and anicca, he described anatta (the doctrine of non-self) as one of the three characteristics of all existence.

One thing we can truly learn when studying Buddhism, and especially when practicing Zen is that: it’s not all about Me, Mine and Myself. Less “I” makes life easier, ours, and even more the life of everyone who has to deal with us.

The other day, due to circumstances partially beyond my control, I was drawn into participating a Buddhist event. The group conducting it was very generous, welcoming everyone to join their festivity, their head monks’ Dharma Talk, Meditation and even their meal. For free. Their recently deceased head teacher called himself a Zen Master, in spite of not being related to any Japanese lineage or tradition. Zen sells, even if it is all for free.

When the event started, we all were asked to sing a song together which contained “I” ten times. We sang it 4 times (twice in German, twice in English), 40 times “I”. Followed by another song, also containing 10 times the “I”, summing up to 80 “I”s in just a couple of minutes. Eight more missing I thought …

The guided meditation following the welcome was also all about “me” … my sensation, my breath, my thoughts, my feeling in my head, my tension in my spine, my “energy” flowing down to my lower body. Not being used to constant talking while practicing mediation, the very vivid image arose in my mind of everyone constantly taking emotional selfies.

When after almost two hours we left the room, I spotted one of the deceased master’s calligraphies hanging at the wall, saying “this is it”. I couldn’t agree more, after being pumped so full with “I”. Later I had a bad night, dreaming of me, mine and myself, which resulted in that text with far too many “I”.

Maybe, this enormous emphasis on “I” and “me” is just a splendid example of upaya, the Buddhist pedagogical concept of skillful means giving everyone just the guidance to be able to understand? And what would be the best guidance for our totally self-centered selfie generation? Feed us up with even more self, so in the end we can’t stand it any more. The deceased Master must have been a genius, without doubt, drawing such a large followership and accumulating so many resources they can even generously afford welcoming someone – like me.