Have you ever wondered how it is that you always wake up in the morning as yourself and not someone else? As you awaken all the incidentals come crowding in: all the things you have to do today; all the places you have to be; what you are expected to accomplish, what you expect others to accomplish, and so on. All the hopes and cares dawn on you, slotting into place together with their accompanying mood. Sometimes they leave you hopeful and upbeat and at other times they fill you with such a sense of dread that you wish you were someone else altogether. All this happens very rapidly. But the process can be slowed down, the way it would be if you were awakening after a general anesthetic, and you come to your senses in a useful way, a way that offers something of great importance.
Most of the time this self-recognition, the 'me' thing, the ego thing, the overwhelming sense of personal identity can blind you to the possibility that your awareness could be in any way different.
When from day to day things are going nicely you awaken with the feeling that you like who you are. But when things are not going so well and you get that 'life is a bitch' feeling, you damn well wish you were somebody else or at the very least, somewhere else. When too many days begin badly, you might find yourself at the top of a slippery slope that skids into a river of booze. Eventually you may realize that, as someone once said, "Troubles float. You can't drown them in drink!"
At such a time you should ask yourself, "Can this really be the whole story? Is there something about the nature of this 'ego self', something about this identity that is so special that makes me treasure it so much? Or is it just possible that there is something deeper, something of real gravity, something I haven't really known yet, except in an occasional rare moment when I thought I experienced a tiny hint of something wonderfully strange but quite ungraspable. Or, am I irrevocably stuck within the limits of this individual 'ego self'- this person that sometimes I love and sometimes hate."
And so you begin to wonder what it means to be truly awake, wide awake. Are you really awake in the morning when you think you are, when everything appears just as it always does, with all that self-recognition?
Now let's suppose for a minute that it would be possible to wake up in the morning as another person. How would this other guy's waking be so very different from your own? Certainly there would be some similarities. You'd both stretch and wipe the sleep from your eyes; but the setting and the characters of your daily life and your personal perspectives would hardly be the same. How would you feel about meeting your day?
You might very well hate the sight of this other person and not really wish to wake as him even in some fanciful experiment. The thought, though, IS engaging even if it's just as a kind of imaginative mental exercise. Of course you always fall back on the knowledge that everybody is so different, and while you and the other fellow may have similar material and spiritual needs, or share common ideals about human rights, fair play, and such, surely this would be as far as your separate identities could possibly go. Or is it? Is there an elusive common denominator you share apart from your obvious humanity?
Maybe there is a clue somewhere in the original notion of waking as yourself and not another person. If you look only at the particulars of both 'self' and 'other' you will not be able to uncover anything but those particulars. These particulars are what make you, you and him, him. So perhaps, you tell yourself, it is now time to look elsewhere, 'inward' or 'behind' the idea of what it means to be 'you'. The funny thing about this is that when you do look 'inside' what do you find? Yes, even more ideas about this and that, petty thoughts, images, ambitions, memories and all those little joys that keep you going, raising your hopes, stoking up ever more desires and so on, ad infinitum. You have not looked deeply enough.
Until you do, it does not matter where you look, inside or outside. Always, there are those familiar 'ten thousand things' that arrive upon waking. And as you continue to consider that nagging question about who it is who wakes every morning, you realize that it's no good arguing about those ten thousand things or getting into differing philosophical explanations. All these academic exercises lead you into circular arguments. Who is it who is arguing? The circle seems to form a zero of emptiness.
THIS, is where you need to be - that place where you realise that this 'self' is the cause of all the trouble. This intuition brings with it the 'place' of the innocent mind. This is the place behind your own mind, the place that lays beyond all that you usually recognise as yourself. Utterly ungraspable, because in it's sweet profundity, it is 'your' eternal Buddha nature, the God at the depths of your supposed emptiness as well as everyone else's; the face before you were born, the place where all opposites are transcended. It is here that you now know you can love this other fellow, this neighbour, for you see now that you in truth are your neighbour.
This is the real beginning which is eternal and immovable. The individual apprehensions may change; but this no longer matters because your identity is now within the transcendent/imminent principal. Here is the Dharmakaya of all the Buddhas and it is always right on your doorstep when at last you are truly wide awake.
This realisation comes with a warning: make sure that the little ego does not appropriate this great knowledge to itself and become inflated.
But if the realisation, the awakening, is complete no inflation will follow. For then you will have reached the Tao of eternal compassion, the place where you realise quite simply that you and your neighbour are 'not two' but 'One'.