What is the Mind?

“Hello?” we shout in a canyon. “Hello!” the canyon replies. Everything is like this. Call and response; communication. 

Each stimulus is a call, a message. The experiences we have of it, the pleasures and pains, the blues and yellows, the hot and cold, they’re the words and letters that convey those messages. How we feel in response to that, and the inclinations that experiences give rise to, is our message. Our words, thoughts, and actions are our reply.

We don’t listen very well, that’s one reason we suffer. If don’t listen, then we miss the meaning and get lost in the words. Missing the meaning, we reply to messages that were never there. Then we wonder why life seems to confusing. Life isn’t confusing, and the messages are simple. We just don’t know how to listen.

The first part of Zen practice is about deep listening, learning how to be good listeners. We learn some methods and follow them to silence (fun fact, silent and listen are anagrams). That’s what the more samatha (tranquil abiding) aspects of zuochan do. By focusing on the breath, an image, posture, or our tendency toward attachment and aversion, we start to open up some space between that call and response. We’re taking the power away from our habits.

As the practice moves on, there’s no response at all. And the medium, the sights and sounds and thoughts we clung to as essential, start to disengage from their messages. Then, in a turning about, there’s only the call, like a wordless word. A canyon without echoes. This is Mind. Still, bright, and boundless.

It’s not a god or being, this is important. Zen isn’t Advaita Vedanta or mystic Christianity. It’s not a Self, it’s the Not-Self. Universal activity, inherent Selflessness. This Not-Self, his No-Mind is sometimes called the True Self, Buddha Self, or Big Mind in Zen. It’s like the space in a cup.

That space isn’t separate from space in general. If the cup is full, that doesn’t really diminish the amount of space in the universe. If it’s empty, that doesn’t add to it. The space doesn’t belong to the cup. If we break the cup, we’re not breaking space.

Buddha called this our actual Mind. The little mind that we take be ours, the mind that thinks and discriminates, that picks things up and lets them go, is a mental process. It’s the echo in the valley, a second moon created when we rub our eyes. The mind and mental processes aren’t separate, they have the same nature. No matter where you look, you won’t find them anywhere. Just like you won’t find that second moon in the sky, in your eye, or in your brain.

This non-separation between mind and what’s on our minds is Mind. It shines clearly straight to the bottom once our waters are calm. Living without pushing or pulling is enough. Pushing and pulling give rise to the appearance of mind, of self.

Without pushing and pulling, the whole world is open and unhindered. There’s no need to be a Buddhist or anything else, no need to follow any path because life is identical to the Way.

 

 

 

 

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