Niutou Farong on Meditation

I recently translated Farong’s Xin Ming (Song of Mind).

Unlike the Xinxin Ming, I’m not gonna post that one online, because I’m probably gonna put them both in a book, and I’ve been told that it’s unwise to blog everything you’re putting in a book since then people have no reason to buy it haha.

However, I have a big mouth, and aside from other people’s secrets, can’t keep anything nifty to myself for long. I can only hoard shit, not diamonds, even though they’re not-two. So, here are a few verses from Song of Mind on how to meditate:

If you want to attain a clear mind,
Diligently apply no-mind.
To reflect on what has no height or width
Is the most subtle art.

Using rules and methods to still your mind,
Still won’t cure your suffering.
Forget life and death, and on the spot,
Just this will be your original nature.

With tranquil, clear-sighted understanding,
Turn about, see the web of mutual becoming,
And fill it with awareness.

Leave it all to emptiness,
Let your mind move, float, and change,
And all that’s extra will sink to the bottom.

Commentary

If you want to attain a clear mind,
Diligently apply no-mind.
To reflect on what has no height or width
Is the most subtle art.

No-mind (wuxin) is another term for True Mind, True Self, or Not-Self. Different symbols vibe with different faculties and personalities, that’s why Buddhism never seems to run out of different ways of saying the same thing.

In one scheme for practice, there’s four different states of mind: scattered mind, concentrated mind, one mind, and no-mind. Those are just symbols, not actualities, so don’t get too excited.

The scattered mind is the mind we usually start practice with. It zips this way and that and it’s full of baggage. Concentrated mind is what we cultivate as we practice. We could also call it the managed mind, because we’re in control of ourselves. Everything does what intention tells it to do.

One Mind is where a lot of essentialist mystics, like Christian contemplatives and Advaita Vedantins, stop. It’s when the body-mind seems to expand to include everything in time and space. It’s easy to mistake for complete enlightenment. The telltale sign that it isn’t is that there’s still attachment and aversion, namely attachment to One Mind and aversion to scattered mind.

It’s at this point that some people leave secular life and join a monastery, or they might become gurus or meditation teachers, traveling the country and writing books with all the day-to-day grind taken care of by students and attendants.

That’s a clever way of trying to defend the One Mind state from situations that might give rise to affliction. But, if we put most of these teachers and gurus back into secular life, they’d probably have a rough go at it. If they got a job shoveling shit, a tiny apartment, a dysfunctional family, and never spoke of the Dharma again—odds are they’d eventually, lose that One Mind state. That’s why lay life is best test of our abilities.

No-mind is complete enlightenment. It’s like One Mind, except the One isn’t self or other. There’s no solid attachment for aversion to anything. Whereas One Mind seems infinite and boundless, no-mind is neither boundless or bound. With One Mind, there’s the sense that, “It’s always been this way, and always will be.” For no-mind, there’s no sense of it being any way in particular. There’s no wisdom to gain, defend, and share, and there’s no ignorance to lose, wipe away, or dispel.

We can’t apply no-mind, but we can sit with that intention. Can just think, “No-mind, no-grasping.”

Using rules and methods to still your mind,
Still won’t cure your suffering.
Forget life and death, and on the spot,
Just this will be your original nature.

Traditionally, there are two types of meditation: zhi and guan. Zhi means stilling the mind, it’s like samatha practice. We’re focusing on something so deeply that everything else seems to drop away.

Guan means observing the mind, it’s like vipassana or mindfulness practice. With that, we’re just taking a no preferences attitude and watching everything come and go until we experience insight into the true nature of things: dissatisfying, impermanent, not-self, and empty.

We can either practice just one for our whole meditative career, practice them in sequence, or both at the same time. Farong is saying, “Fuck all that. You could do it for a billion lifetimes and still be tangled up in suffering and confusion.”

Life and death represents all duality. Is and isn’t, inside and outside, self and other, good and bad, permanent and impermanent, etc. He’s asking us to just see through all of it, as if it’s transparent.

Instead of concentrating on the breath, we’re not concentrating on anything, we’re seeing through the breath. Instead of observing the coming and going of thoughts and feelings, we’re seeing through them altogether.

Samatha is like trying to clear the sky of all clouds; vipassana is like watching the clouds come and go and change. Zuochan (Sitting Zen) is like looking at the sky and seeing the ground.

With tranquil, clear-sighted understanding,
Turn about, see the web of mutual becoming,
And fill it with awareness.

The web of mutual becoming is sunyata/kong, or emptiness. I’ve recently taken to calling it the Algorithm. By not focusing on or observing anything (or nothing), this what we’re really taking as our focus and our method.

Leave it all to emptiness,
Let your mind move, float, and change,
And all that’s extra will sink to the bottom.

These are the most straightforward instructions. We’re sitting and letting the Algorithm do everything. This is different from mind wandering because we’re not following our thoughts, We’re not watching them either, we’re just letting everything unfold as it does, letting it all be in the background, and letting the foreground be spacious and empty until the two eventually merge.

Then there’s no foreground and no background.

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