Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mind, the Gap

Words are provisional, words are imprecise, words are subject to interpretation, choice s of words are subject to causes and conditions, words that I use to convey what I'm thinking, when you hear them may have a totally different meaning to you than my intent. And that's fine, it's just the way things are. But given all that, when using words, it is important that they convey as accurate a picture as they can, even though most likely they'll fall woefully short. But, they’re the best we’ve got.

I may be called a heretic, I may be taken to task, because I dare to say that a lot of what is written and said in Buddhist teaching can fall a little short of conveying the true message. Given that any number of times these words have gone through a number of translations, and “thus have I heard” that there was no tape recordings of the Buddha's actual words, I take it as a given that while he may have been precise, over the years, that they maybe it got little imprecise. And maybe this is all just an attachment of mine to using what I perceive to be the more correct word, and I willingly submit that may be the case. But I believe there is a difference between, “Let's eat, grandma,” versus, “Let's eat Grandma.”

What I am taking issue with is the seemingly interchangeability of “thinking” and “mind.” If one uses the words of Huangbo, the Chan Master who died in 850 CE, and from whose writings I took the name of the sangha (One Mind Zen Sangha), he uses the word “Mind” as the unconditioned:

            “It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of  things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons. All the             Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be  thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons....The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp Mind.”

I'm good with that approach. The one thing I might take issue with is the last sentence where he says “using mind to grasp Mind.” But I'll let it slide, because “mind” in the first case is lowercase, and in the second case “Mind” is capitalized. The word he would have used would be shin, which translates as “heart/mind,” which is akin to the Sanskrit word “Citta.” But if I wanted to be picky about it, I might say “use thinking to grasp Mind,” which in English at least, doesn't flow quite as smoothly or as poetically.

The Yogacara school of Buddhism, the “Mind-Only” school teaches that the entire world is dependent upon “mind.” In this case, what they're referring to might be where “thinking” and “mind” dovetail. They're sometimes also referred to as the “Consciousness-only” (Skt: Citta-matra) school, and that's upon which I base this opinion about where thinking and Mind overlap. The deepest level of this consciousness is the “storehouse consciousness” (Skt: alaya vijnana), which contains both the individual residue of thought, but also universal consciousness, what Huangbo refers to as “Mind”.

The Lankavatara Sutra also speaks of this:

            “:..The doing away with the notion of cause and condition, the giving up of a causal agency, the establishment of the Mind-only--this I state to be no-birth....There is just one has nothing to do with intellection...Of neither existence nor non-existence do I speak, but of Mind-only which has nothing to do with existence and non-existence, and which is thus free from intellection....Suchness, emptiness, Absolute Truth...these I call Mind-only.”

We can use “thinking,” especially intellectualizing thoughts, in place of “intellection,” if you like. So we've got both the Buddha and Huangbo using the word “mind” as different from “thinking.”

Of course, where the rub is, is when Huineng tells his monks that neither the flag nor the wind is moving, “Mind is moving.” I'm not so sure it's mind that's moving. The Korean monk Wonhyo, awakened when he saw that the “cup” of delirious “water” he drunk in the night, turned out to have been a skull filled with brackish rain water (and brackish may be an understatement). What he thought of as wonderful in the dark caused him to vomit when he saw what it actually was in the light of day. “Ah-ha” he realized between bouts of vomiting, “Everything is create only mind alone!” Third Zen Patriarch Sengcan in the Xinxin Ming, his great poem whose title is often translated as “Faith-Mind Inscription,”

            When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, nothing in the world can offend, and when a thing can no longer offend, it ceases to exist in the old way.”

Zen Master Seung Sahn refers to “Clear Mind” as “Moment-to-moment, what are you doing now?” Whatever we are doing we do it 100%, be it driving, cooking, operating on a patient, teaching, writing, or whatever. When we interject “I, Me, Mine” into the equation, then we create a subject/object duality, and then we have a problem.

If you were to go to the Buddha Dharma University website, which is the “seminary without walls” for the Five Mountain Zen Order, the URL is “” This refers to that natural state, our True Nature, where thinking is not required to take correct action. I will often put it in terms of the rests between the musical notes, the spaces between the words, the space between thoughts. When a fish is in water, no name for “water” is required. If the air were always still, no name for air would be necessary. But as there is wind, as Huineng's monks noted, there is differentiation between still air and moving air. If a fish is out of water, then water becomes water, and air becomes something different, resulting in the judgments that thinking brings along with it. If there were no “off,” would we need a word for “on?” If there were no “dark,” would we notice “light?” If the sine wave were always above the zero line, it would no longer be a sine wave. It would just be on at all times. When looking at binary code, if there were no “0” there would be no use for “1.”

But when we create duality out of these things, one being “better” than the “other,” that's when we get into dangerous territory. Yes, there is dark and light, but they are mutually dependent upon each other, two sides of the same coin, where no “coin” has sides. Same with 1 & 0, same with all things that can potentially thought of as “this” or “that.” Thinking creates subject/object, where neither is necessary. Sengcan says, “The Great Way is easy for those who do not pick and choose.” And that's why for most of us, it isn't easy at all. We constantly pick and choose, sometimes by way of discerning what is wholesome, or helpful in a situation, versus when something would do harm.

The Bodhisattva path is one where we save all beings, not just some. Given that there is no “picking and choosing” in “all,” then we are free to act according to our True Nature, before thought comes in to make opposites. “The foolish reject what they see, not what they think; the wise reject what they think, not what they see,” as the Buddha states in the Lankavatara Sutra. When driving, just drive, when teaching, just teach, when planning, just plan.

Observe the space between words, the rests between the notes, observe the space between thoughts, even though this observation may just be thinking. That is our True Nature.

It really is easy if you think about it. But that's just what I think. 

Oh, the irony!

Thanks to Dōshim Dharma for his Original Mind Zen Sangha Dharma talk called, “Mind the Gap.”

Click below for  the Dharma talk: