Suffering. It’s the main concern in Zen.
Suffering is like when dive in a pool, climb out and say, “I’m soaked, I need a towel.” That’s valid reasoning. 1) If someone dives into wet water, then they’re going to get wet. 2) I dove into wet water. 3) I’m wet.
Buddha basically said, “No, that’s not true at all. You don’t need a towel because you’re completely dry.” It’s totally reasonable to doubt that conclusion. In fact, I encourage skepticism, but only curious skepticism. We need to test it and see for ourselves.
In this case, the water is everything we experience. The wetness is the way our experiences affect us, and our bodies are our minds.
Buddha is saying that what we experience doesn’t actually affect us. It can influence our thoughts, feelings, and desires, but not attention. If you open your hand, and then close it, when it’s closed is it also open? If it’s closed and you’re about to open it, are you experiencing it as closed and open at the same time?
Nope, that’d be weird as fuck. So the past, present, and future don’t stick to attention. If they did, then you’d be experiencing stimuli in this moment, the last, and the next one all at once. So events in time don’t change attention. Let’s look at events in space.
If you’re in your house, and then you go outside, does your attention grow? When you got back in, does it shrink? I’m looking out the window right now at the clear blue sky, but my attention isn’t streaming out through the windows. And if someone closes the curtains, then my attention isn’t cut in half.
Is attention inside or outside? If it was inside, then I wouldn’t experience the world outside my windows. If it was outside, then I wouldn’t experience the room around me. If it was inside my body, I wouldn’t be able to see these words. If it was outside, I wouldn’t be aware of what it feels like to be sitting in this chair.
If it was influenced by sensations, like pain, then when I stub my toe, that pain should cover everything. But if I’m aware, then I might notice that the top of my head feels fine.
If things could turn it on and off, then when I close my eyes, I shouldn’t be able to see darkness. If there weren’t any sounds, then I shouldn’t be able to hear silence. If it could be changed by characteristics, then if I look at the blue sky, then my attention should turn blue. If that happened, then I’d experience everything as blue.
If it’s influenced by altered states of consciousness, then if I ate a bag of magic mushrooms, not only would my experience change, but my ability to experience would change as well. Instead of just tasting colors and seeing fractals, I’d forget how to see, or how to hear. I don’t know if you’ve ever tripped, but that doesn’t happen. You’re still seeing and hearing, only the content of what we’re experiencing changes.
Even unconsciousness doesn’t touch it. If we went to bed and experienced deep, dreamless sleep, if our minds were really annihilated during that time, then if someone asks, “How’d ya sleep?” how could we say, “Good. Deep sleep, no dreams.” If our minds ceased to exist in a dreamless sleep, then we could only answer, “I don’t know, I wasn’t there.”
If the mind disappeared when we were under anesthesia, then when we came out of it, we wouldn’t be aware that time had passed. We’re aware that there was a gap between here and there, now and then. We’re aware that we were just unaware. We can only be aware of that if, while we were unaware, there was something there to experience that lack of experience.
Attention is like an empty cup filled by sensations, thoughts, feelings, and desires. You can put water, beer, wine, pop, piss, mud, blood, or marbles in the cup, but the cup is still just the cup.
When we go swimming and climb out soaking wet, is our attention wet? If it was, the whole world would be wet, and it would take more than a towel to dry it off.
Mazu said, “Mind is Buddha.” Just this, this untouchable attention is Buddha. I’ve used the word, “Attention,” here because it hasn’t been hijacked by the New Age movement yet. I really mean consciousness.
It’s because there’s seeing-nature that there’s something to see, a means to see it, and a seer. It’s because there’s space that there are things to occupy that space, a means for them to come together in space, and someone who can be aware of them in space.
The things we see, the means, and the sense of being a seer are really illusory compartments. When we’re infants, we’re just seeing. We don’t know that there’s someone who’s seeing or something that’s seen.
The second we know that, we get ourselves into trouble. We start to wage a lifelong war against the things around us and within us. War is only possible if we’re aware that there are different sides. There aren’t any sides. When I look through the categories I can put this post in, the one that’s selected by default is, “Uncategorized.”
The practice involves bringing awareness to this unsorted, uncompartmentalized seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, thinking, feeling, and wanting. Then we see that seeing is just seeing, the cup is just the cup.
Then we know that we were wrong, that we can swim without getting wet. That no one’s ever gotten wet from swimming.