When I sit with the Zen question who hears the sounds?, or explore the sense fields, I notice that what’s here is already here. It seems quite obvious.
Sounds are already heard. Sights already seen. Tastes already tasted. Sensations already sensed. Thoughts already thought.
It’s all already here, crystal clear, as awareness.
A sound appears. It’s already heard.
Then, there is a gap in time, and an image comes up, perhaps of a bird. It labels the sound. It’s an innocent question. Bird?
Then, another gap in time, and thoughts come up. It’s morning. It’s a small bird. And these are also innocent questions. Morning? Small bird?
By the time images label, and thoughts tell a story, the sound itself is gone. All this happens afterwards, as an afterthought.
Then there are some other thoughts.
The sound is heard by me, by this human self.
It’s heard by I, this doer, listener.
And these too happens afterward. A sound appears. There is an image, a label. There are thoughts, telling a story. And there is an image of a me hearing it, and I listening.
As this is seen, it’s almost comical. What I sometimes take as so solid and real – the label and the stories, the me and I listening – is, quite literally, an afterthought. It happens quite a bit later, after the sound itself is gone. It’s constructed.
When it’s taken as real and true, it seems real, substantial and true. It’s experienced that way. And when it’s seen to be just an afterthought – images and stories happening after the sound is already gone – it’s seen as an afterthought. It looses its sense of solidity. The label, the stories of the sound and a me and I are recognized as images and stories.
The same happens when I explore sensations, tastes, sights, and even mental activity itself. Who senses these sensations? Who tastes the taste? Who thinks these images? Who thinks these thoughts? In each case, I find it’s happening, crystal clear, as awareness, and there is a gap in time until there is an image and stories labeling and explaining what’s happening.