The Meaning of Mind
“Do You See What I See?”
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long, but I’m presently reading The Three Pillars of Zen, by Philip Kapleau. I suppose I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it a few years ago, but now I’m really enjoying the book.
Back in the 13th century, there was a Zen master named Bassui. The following quote is from a lecture or dharma talk that he gave.
Imagine a child sleeping next to its parents and dreaming it is being beaten or is painfully sick. The parents cannot help the child no matter how much it suffers, for no one can enter the dreaming mind of another. If the child could awaken itself, it could be freed of this suffering automatically. In the same way, one who realizes that one’s own Mind is Buddha is instantly free from the sufferings arising from [ignorance of the law of] ceaseless change of birth-and-death. If Buddhas could prevent it, would they allow even one sentient being to fall into hell? Without Self-realization one cannot understand such things as these.
In a dream you may stray and lose your way home. You ask someone to show you how to return or your pray to God or Buddhas to help you, but you still can’t get home. Once you rouse yourself from your dream- state, however, you find that you are in your own bed and realize that the only way you could have gotten home was to awaken yourself. p.181–82
Bassui goes on to suggest that a combination of zazen and koan work is the only way to understand the workings of Mind.
Another way of saying Mind (capital M) is to say Buddha-nature. I suppose, since Mind is everywhere and everything, one could also call Mind the Tao. The Tao is described as being both formless and nameless, in existence everywhere, and the Source of everything.
Enlightenment, or realization, is coming into a full-bodied awakening to the nature of the Tao — of the Mind.
Now I gotta tell you, I really don’t get how all of this plays out. I sort of get the idea, and am able to write some stuff about it, but that “full bodied awakening” part? Well”¦
Here’s a little story for you. My supervisor, Gloria, was talking about one of her clients. It seems this guy had purchased a copy of my book, This Endless Moment and even carried it with him everywhere. It became the basis for their discussions. One day the guy said, “So, do you know the author?” Gloria replied, with a smirk, “Yes, I know him well.” The client asked, “I have to ask–is he a an enlightened being?” After she picked yourself up from the floor, Gloria replied, “Not even close.” That’s me, in a nutshell.
That being said, I do put a fair amount of effort into
zazen and exploring Mind.
Koans (i.e. “What is the sound of one hand?”, or “What was your Face before your parents were born?”) are designed to be deeply investigated yet never solved through explanation or the use of the mind (small m).
When all explanations are exhausted, all that’s left is a sense of bodily realization or acknowledgment. It’s as if the artificial construct of the ego and the self fall way and all that’s left is the “is-ness” of the present moment.
One way of doing this is to relentlessly question yourself. “Who is it that hears?” If you are tempted to reply “me,” see if you can find the “me” that hears, somewhere inside of yourself. There is no hear-er in there; there is just “hearing.”
This all seems counterintuitive, but actually closely fits with what brain scientists think (interesting choice of word…) is the way our minds actually work. Hearing, in this example, is nothing more than the electrical stimulation of the brain’s neurons — the ones, in this case, designed to transport and interpret sound. No one knows how the interpretation part happens — only that it does.
There is no hearer — there is just electricity moving —
or in Zen parlance, “hearing.”
Ultimately, as you explore your mind in order to discover Mind, you see that you have been trained since birth to differentiate, to judge, to discriminate.
For example, the expression “Sugar is sweet,” is redundant and unnecessary. Of coarse sugar is sweet; what else could it be? Sugar is sugar. Sugar!
Our differentiations are artificial mind games.
We seem to think that it is essential to make these judgments and differentiations, and then to pretend that all of it is real. Aspects are just aspects. It’s how you choose to see it.
I got an e‑mail the other day from a friend, asking about some of this. She was coming to some awareness of her intrinsic nature versus how people see her, or judge her.
I enjoyed what she wrote, and sent a reply, which I’ve expanded for this week’s article:
Yeah, this is about “Mind.”
Zen says that the Mind is like a mirror, which reflects what it “sees.” Most people’s minds (small m) are filled with distortions, and distortions are caused by judgments (“good/bad,” “right/wrong,” “tall/short,” “sexy/plain”, etc.)
Zen proposes finding a way of being where one, “when looking, simply sees.” No distortion. Pure Mind, which is all that there is.
Now, everyone has a ‘mind mirror.’ If you imagine me, and [two there people] sitting opposite you, each with a real mirror in our hands, aimed at you, no matter what, there’d be three versions of you reflected. And you, seeing three views.
You are not who is reflected in our mirrors. And, you are NOT who you judge yourself to be.
You are who you are, which is constantly changing, as is everything else. So, you are who you are, now. And now. And now.
Now, if people you hang with are Zen-ish, the reflection in their “mirror” is distortion free — not easy, but possible. If they are “caught in illusion,” their reflection of you is distorted — typically into who or what they want you to be.
You say that people enter your life. They do not. They are but reflections in your mind mirror. No one enters your life. No one can. You are you, and yours is yours.
All there is, is you, and your thoughts about others.
Given this, you are free to drop judgements, and simply play (engage with) people as you choose to play with them.
In Zen, we say, “You, enlightenment, zazen, and the universe are all the same thing.”
So anyway, not only are others’ versions of you not you, your version of you is also not you.
No Susan. Just “Susan-ing.”
This is one of those ideas that we can just barely
get our heads around, with effort.
And getting our heads around it is hardly the point, as all that does is provide a new theory to play with. In a sense, zazen helps us to see just how busy our minds are, creating drama, coming up with judgments, blaming, causing trouble.
Another mental theory is simply not the point.
What is the point is living in the moment, simply seeing what there is to see, hearing what there is to hear, feeling what there is to feel, without judgment or comment, and then letting go and moving on. Into the next experience, into the next moment.
Sure, it’s fun to analyze and to pretend to be smart, to yap on and on internally and externally, and at the end of the day be no closer to being awake. Remember the initial quotation, about the requirement to come out of the dream? When you’re caught in dreamland there’s no escape — stupidity happens, and you’re right in the middle of it.
When you wake up you see it for the illusion it was, and you feel nothing but relief. Waking up is waking up.
Take the time to notice how much time you spend telling yourself stories and making judgments. Ask yourself, “Who is it that judges, who is it that is telling the story?” See if you can find the judge, the storyteller. Look deeply.
There’s no one there. Never has been, never will be. Breathe, be present, move on.