There are many ideas and philosophies on the path of awakening. I’ll share a point of view.

For me, as I started on this path very young, I came to realize that there’s this active side of us that desires to gain, to move forward, with ambition. It was the natural survival instinct, the natural evolutionary instinct, the natural winning instinct in me.

And it was strong, coming from my family dynamics: my father’s entrepreneurship, as well as from my mother’s side; her sense of social help and service. I had that natural spirit in me and that drive for life, and I came across great books and teachers, the inspiring go-getters, winners, the success-oriented. They had amazing things to share. They lived lives that seemed so far off from where I was as a kid. I wanted that type of freedom, and so, I went for it.

And then, when I was in my early teens, I came across these teachings on Zen koans. Koans are questions which, traditionally, your Zen master would give you on a deep dive retreat. The oldest one of these puzzling questions, which many know of, is “Who am I?”

A humorous one, that’s made many jokes of, is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Of course, it’s a nonsensical question, what is the sound of one hand clapping? It doesn’t make a sound. That’s the obvious answer. And yet why pose a question with an obvious answer?

Well, the idea of a Zen koan is to keep you in the riddle, to keep you going deeper and deeper into the riddle. 

One of the main questions that they gave us is, “What is life?” Supposedly, purposely, this was Buddha’s essential question. “What is the meaning of life?”

He saw so much death, and dissolving, and suffering. He moved to find the deepest meaning of life in order to free himself, and whoever else would be open to this understanding, or whatever he discovered. His quest was to achieve true liberation from suffering. 

So, for me, the real starting point to deep spiritual realization, starts with pulling away from everything. It starts with really dedicating yourself to a personal retreat of self-inquiry. It is not going deeper into the search for gain, or what you can achieve, or create, or attain, but in fact, it requires the removal, pulling away from the density of life, and starting to approach the subtlety of life. 

Your retreat is where you make time to ask yourself these essential questions, addressing the prime value, the prime intention of life.

Who am I? What is life? What is death? You must be willing to take that venture into the unknown.

It’s about dismantling who you are, dismantling your ideas of Self, dismantling, dissolving, reducing your belief systems to nothing.

Sometimes, it’s setting fire to the entrenched philosophies, and ideas, and religions, and imprints we have within ourselves. Alliances, allegiances, loyalties, royalties, rules, obligations, ideas that this is the way it should be, it’s the way I should be. 

These things all come up in deep meditation, when you’re willing to pull away and sink in, and dismantle the very root of yourself. This is the purpose of a koan.

These are self-destruction tools, not here to aggrandize yourself, not here to put you on the front cover of anything, or get ranked the highest anywhere, or be seen with the most views, or get you on the most talks or stages, or have the biggest accounts, more goods, or hot people around you, or fanfare of any sorts.

Real spiritual practice and illumination is about being willing to dissolve all of that. It’s about going to the place where you can’t have your cake and eat it too. When you pass that threshold, where you go, “Boy, if I keep going, I’m not going to be able to have my cake and eat it too,” and you know it in your core – that’s when you’re just getting close to the truth.

And if you really take the jump, you’ll come to that core inside yourself and realize, “Wow. A lot of my reality is a game of identity, a bunch of shticks I’m playing.” And you’re willing to let those shticks go, those identities go. 

Perhaps those roles have been really entrenched. You’ve been holding on to them for a long time. These identities give you meaning, they give you love, they give you sex, they give you money.

You fear that if you let them go, and you don’t live out from those identities, you will lose your freedom. So you perpetuate them and stoke those falsities in yourself.

This is all games, it’s all acting. 

The true path is about self-destruction, dissolving. It’s not about annihilating yourself, like bombing yourself; it’s the opposite. It’s about allowing yourself to slowly dissolve, as you allow your inquiry to go deeper, layer after layer after layer. When you’re willing to do that, and willing to live with what remains, you’re walking suddenly on this path which has zero terrain.

This is the path of the Warrior Sage. Perhaps you are ready to take on this self-inquiry, and to realize a new level of depth and meaning that the world can never give you.