To study the self in three important questions

During my monastic retreat at the International Zen Center ‘Noorder Poort’ The teacher, Jiun Hogen roshi, trained me to ask myself questions when ever there was emotion or thought arising in such a way it became a story on itself. Three questions in particular helped me to study myself:

  1. Where do you feel that?
  2. Why is that important for you?
  3. How does this benefit you?

Where do you feel that?

When I first came to live at the ‘Noorder Poort’, I used to express my feelings like “I am sad” and “I am upset” or “I am happy”. Expressing myself in that way, I identified completely with my emotions.
Asking myself “Where do you feel that?” gave me the opportunity to experience emotions in a different way. “I feel sadness and it is a cramp in my belly.” is quite different from “I am sad.” “I feel anger and it is like suffocation around my throat and it makes a frown on my face.” “I feel happiness and it is tinkling on my skin and in my stomach and makes a smile on my face.” “I feel stress and it is like pressure on my bladder and it lifts my shoulders a bit.”

Asking this question, “Where do you feel that?”, for the first time for me opened up the difference between the five skanda’s: form, sensation, perception, conception, and consciousness. Asking this question I became aware of where an emotion started, how it came about. Sometimes it started physically, most of the times it started as a thought. Keeping track of the sensations in my own body and how they related to my thoughts through perception and conception, showed me how I am a great story teller! 🙂 It also gave me the opportunity to sometimes lay back and let the story pass like a dull sitcom.

Why is that important for you?

This was really an eyeopener the very first time Jiun roshi asked me this question. “Why is that important for you?” instantly made me realize that what ever was important for me, was important for me and perhaps for nobody else.

Besides that I never before questioned the sense of urgency I experienced when ever I perceived something as “unfair” for example, or something else that triggered my so called righteousness. Situations that I perceived as unfair would kick me into an angry action to do justice or get justice done.
But not with roshi. She simply asked “Why is that important for you?” and turned my world inside out with that.

So whenever I get this deeply felt sense of urgency around something I perceive as unjust, I ask myself that very same question: “Why is this so important for me?” And usually that is enough to put the situation at hand into perspective. Almost never is there a deliberately unfair act from the one I feel angry with. And once the emotion is out of me and away, it is easy to ask the other person what is going on and to even let it be if nothing changes.

Cannot tell you what a relief that is. I no longer have to save the world 🙂

How does this benefit you?

I’m a curious and inquisitive creature interested mostly in what presents itself no matter what that is. I love to experiment and investigate and toy around with what I read or hear or what I see teachers do. With that I mainly keep my brain occupied. Thoughts coming and going one after the other. Questions, questions, questions… A fool can ask more questions than a wise person can ever answer.

Asking my many questions at roshi, I was trying to feed my natural curiosity. I had no real need for the answers. Answers on many of my questions would not help me one bit in my training or study. But I was hungry for the answer anyway out of habit.

And then roshi asked: “How does my answer to that question help you?” Well, that was a new one. It would satisfy my curiosity, but outside that there was no real benefit. I realized that immediately.

A pattern occurred. There were many more situations in which answers on questions or results from my own actions were not beneficial at all. Not beneficial for me nor for anyone else. I could only find that out by asking myself that one question again and again: “How does this benefit me/you?”
And it created silence when ever I was able to sincerely ask myself that question. It made me shut up and my teachers will confirm when asked, that that is a great achievement 🙂

Ultimately I became more conscious about the results of words and other actions. And if a result is not beneficial to anyone, don’t do. Very simple rule.


To study the self based on questions that guide my mind on where to look, has not been a real joy or pleasure. But it feels good non the less.

So thank you roshi. _/|\_


About Jikai

Living a life of blessed less where my feet support my walk and my hands create my story. View all posts by Jikai

2 responses to “To study the self in three important questions

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