Lunhui: Where do thoughts originate?
Niepan: Their origin is no-origin; their destination is no-destination. That’s not just the case for thoughts, but for everything. If you can set aside the idea of beginnings and endings, then you’re free.
All these little chats between Niepan and Lunhui are fictional. Lunhui is samsara, and Niepan is nirvana. They’re not two people, but the wise and confused aspects of each of us. Niepan is the quiet, inner teacher we find after we study and practice a bit.
Really, we’re our own teachers. We can answer all of our questions if we learn how to listen.
Origins and destinations, beginnings and endings are all aspects of abouting. To grok emptiness, we have to set abouting aside and see things as they really are.
Let’s look at something simple, like these words. Where do these words come from, what’s their origin? They came from my mind, but how did they get there? I learned them by listening to others’ words and by learning how to read. Those books and people I learned from got their words the same way.
They go back and back and back, from person to person until we get to the first person who pointed at something, let’s say it was a rock, and made a specific sound that symbolized that rock. That person taught that word to others, and then people were able to bring that rock into view without it having to physically be in view.
So it started with that person’s eye, mind, and that rock. Or did it? Now we have to ask, “Where did that rock come from? Where did that person’s eyes and mind come from?” We can trace it all back to the Big Bang, but then we have to keep going back further and further.
Where are these words going? Right here on this page, but they don’t stop there. They’re going from my mind, to the page, to your mind. Where from there? Into whatever you do next. And then what’s done does something else. On and on.
That’s one way to look at no-origin and no-destination. Another way is to just look directly at the mind in this moment, since the mind is the common denominator. Right now, where is your mind, where does it come from? Where does it go?
If the mind is then must be somewhere. Yet if we look carefully, we’ll just find thoughts, feelings, mountains, grass, trees, other people, our views, attention, and our sense of self. We’ll find anything but mind. But if it’s nowhere, if there isn’t a mind, then nothing could be, because mind is what lends being to everything it knows and experiences, the same way that it lends meaning to these words. If the mind didn’t exist, then none of this could exist.
No-origin and no-destination don’t mean that there’s nothing, that there’s really no origin at all. It means that this absence of an origin is an origin in itself. Things begin because there’s no beginning to them; and they end because they never end.
Abouting (What we usually call our mind) is like dust in the air. When we latch onto something, that’s like moisture. When air, dust, and moisture come together, we get a cloud. The characteristics of each of those elements determines what type of cloud it’ll be. As those elements change, the cloud changes. When one of those elements disappears, the cloud disappears.
If we spend our days grasping at clouds, then we’re gonna suffer as they disappear. If we prefer the clear sky over the clouds, then we’re gonna suffer when they form.
Buddha said that we’re more than that, that everything we come across is more than that. Because a cloud is the sky. Since the sky doesn’t have a beginning or end, clouds can begin and end, appear and disappear, anywhere in it.
If the sky originated in any one place, then all the clouds would originate there too. But, they can come and go anywhere in that boundless blue, and that’s only the case because the sky has no origin.
By extension, that means that clouds really don’t either, they just appear to.
We’re asked to come and see for ourselves, not to take it on faith or reason (which is another type of faith). The way to do that is to meditate. To sit and see the sky.