During most of my spirituality-seeking life, which spans about forty five years, I've considered individuality to be at odds with universality -- feeling one with the universe.
The mystical philosophies that I embraced taught that ego, a sense of "I-ness," is what keeps us humans from becoming one with the One which supposedly is ultimate reality.
That's a relief.
Uchiyama has a take on this whole individuality/universality thing that makes a lot of sense to me. When I re-read the Living Wide Awake chapter I was blown away by how simple and persuasive his viewpoint is.
First, he recognizes what modern neuroscience also knows: our conscious awareness of the world is highly personal, individualized, idiosyncratic. There's no way we can know whether how we perceive reality is how other people do.
We assume that we are all living together in one commonly shared world. However, this is not true from the perspective of the reality of our actual life-experience, which we learn about through letting go of our thoughts in zazen [meditation].
For example, when you and I look at a cup, we usually assume that we are looking at the very same cup, but this isn't so in terms of true, raw life-experience. I am looking from my angle and with my power of vision and you are looking from your angle and your power of vision. There is absolutely no way we can exchange nor understand each other's experience.
... The world in which we actually live and experience life in its vivid freshness is a world that is mine alone and yours alone. This holds true even more for our thoughts.
...In terms of raw life-experience everyone lives in a different world and lives out his or her own world of self that is only self.
Second, while this state of affairs may seem limiting and constrictive, actually it is what makes possible a feeling of compassionate universality. Since reality is only what appears to us as our individual awareness, we are the entire world.
This is a brilliant insight that Uchiyama explains better than anyone else I've come across.
If we take a fresh look through our zazen and practice living out the reality of fresh and immediate life, then it will be clear to anyone that whatever happens, there is nothing outside of living our self that is only self. This is what is called magnanimous mind, the attitude that never discriminates.
Without discriminating in terms of "I like that, I don't like this, I want that, I don't want that," since everything I encounter lies within my life-exoerience, I look at everything equally as my life. My life is not limited to the physical pulsation of my heart.
My life is in every experience -- that is, everywhere life functions. Every way I encounter life manifesting as life, that is my life-experience. That is why in Buddhism "self settling on itself" is the same as the universe settling on itself!
The magnanimous mind of a bodhisattva sees the self as one with the universe, and since everything we encounter is our life, we seek to manifest that life regardless of what is or what happens, without discrimination.
With this magnanimous mind, which throws out the thoughts of the small self and ceases to discriminate, it becomes clear that my whole world appears before me as my present circumstances, the scenery of my life, the content of my own self that is also the whole self. This is exactly the same as in zazen, where all the thoughts that come and go are the scenery of zazen.
Third, all we need to do to experience this universality that also is our universality is... live now.
In terms of raw life-experience we are always living out the present that is only the present, the now that is only now.
So what in the world does it mean to live and work as universal self? Clearly, it is living and working in the now that is only now, as the self that is only self, no matter what happens. Whatever we are now faced with is what lives and functions as our life.
With this attitude toward life there is no past, future, or other person before the eyes of our self, there is only living out the reality of ever-present life.