Huatou, the Three Marks of Existence & the Mind-Ground

“What’s this?” That’s a keyhole to clarity. The longer you look through it, the more you see, eventually seeing yourself as well.

When walking, talking, sitting outside listening to the cars and birds, “What’s this?” It’s impermanent. Wherever the mind goes, whatever attention rests on, appears and disappears. Not in a long-term way, but rapidly. A song has a beginning and end, but so do all the measures in it and the notes and rests. Stop and see and soak in it.

“What’s this?” it’s tension, like ripples in the mind. Each thought and feeling, each sight and sound are like closed boxes. What’s in them?

“What’s this?” It’s emptiness. Birdsong depends on your ears, mind, space, and the bird. So we can give it back to them. The bird depends on space, the sun, earth, your eyes and mind. Give it back to them. Your eyes, ears, the bird, the sun, and the mind are matter and energy. Give it back. Matter and energy depend on space-time, and space-time depends on principles like the Dharma and physics. Give it back.

There’s no principle if there’s nothing to abide it, so these principles depend on space-time. There’s no space or time without matter and energy, and matter and energy have no appearance or relevance without the body and mind which—here—are you and the bird and the birdsong.

So these relationships are mutual and equal. There’s no emptiness without form, and no form without emptiness.

“Dharma” means teaching, but it also means the natural laws that these teachings point to. A small d dharma means “a thing.” That wasn’t accidental. Everything is created, sustained, and destroyed by the Dharma, by natural laws. That means all we have to do to grok the Dharma is to pay attention, because the true nature of things is always in plain sight.

After uncovering some equanimity by monitoring and moderating the body, breath, and mind, it’s easier to see the Dharma in action. We can ask, “What’s this?” and observe the impermanent, dependently arisen, and tension-release nature of whatever it is we’re looking at—including our own minds.

Over time, it’s like the body-mind and the world flow together into a rippling, shimmering pond of experience. Then the ripples slowly ease into perfect stillness as “we” naturally let go of our self-centered preferences and biases.

But what’s the Remainder? If everything is empty and impermanent, then there’d be no ground to observe from. There’d be no Bodhi Tree for Buddha to sit under and wake up. Things don’t pop into being from nothingness and go back into nothingness. Flowers don’t bloom in empty space, they need the ground.

So what’s the ground? What’s the field that makes form and emptiness possible?

In a single violet,
There are infinite universes
In a single universe
There isn’t even one violet
Don’t miss it

“What it this?”

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