[AUDIO AND TEXT]
[This is the first of two sequential talks. The second talk is “Our Life Force.”]
Those of you who are familiar with Zen literature know that the term “mind” comes up a lot. We know it from stories and koans, and it shows up often in the teachings of the masters. In the ancient Chinese of the masters, it is said that the term “mind” could be translated as “heart-mind,” meaning the core – the very essence – of our being.
So, when they say “mind,” they’re not talking about what we Westerners think of as “the mind” – that cogitating if nebulous organ that we use to get around in our daily lives. Not the brain. Not what gives us the thoughts and feelings – the three poisons: greed, anger, and ignorance – that our practice is supposed to help us to cleanse. No, they’re talking about something more basic, more essential, to our being than just the mind that drives us. Here’s a paragraph from Master Linji (Rinzai, d. 866) that expresses his own experience of mind and that informed his teaching:
Followers of the Way, mind is without form and pervades the ten directions [i.e., it’s everywhere]. In the eye it is called seeing, in the ear hearing, in the nose it smells odors, in the mouth it holds converse, in the hands it grasps and seizes, and in the feet it moves and runs. Fundamentally it is a single subtle radiance divided into six sensory perceptions. Yet since this mind is nothing, one is free, wherever one is!
He further says (and I’m paraphrasing here), “This [mind] is nothing other than who you are, listening to my discourse right now before my very eyes.” Here, mind is just this, exactly. In answer to the question “Where or what is mind,” we might say, “Here it is, shining brightly.” [See footnotes on p. 103 of Zen Master Yunmen, His Life and Essential Sayings, by Urs App.]
So, beyond its possible usefulness in working through koans or understanding Zen literature, what good does Linji’s description of mind do us? What does it mean for our daily living?
Well, for one thing it may help us to discard attachment to the thoughts, opinions, and characterizations that often cloud our perception of reality, of what is, of what’s happening, of what and who we are. It may help us to stay with the basics of our being, to stay grounded in our experience of ourselves and of others. It may even help us to shape our language when addressing ourselves and others. With this understanding of mind, who can shout, “You’re out of your mind!” to another person or to our own reflection in the mirror? With this understanding of mind, where actually is “out of your mind”? For where else is there to be?
For another thing, it may help us to keep focused on the task at hand, on the present situation; it may make of us artists in the fashioning of our lives. For isn’t that what we’re doing every moment that we’re alive? Crafting this work of art that we call ourselves? Writing the play of us? Designing our moves in the game of life? (Oops! Cliché. Sorry.) Painting ourselves on the canvas of what and where the Universe has brought us? — Okay, enough of that. Here’s the thing to remember from what Master Linji has left us in these passages:
“This [mind] is nothing other than who you are, listening to my discourse right now before my very eyes.”
Let me read his whole paragraph again, piece by piece, and please listen to it this time, as mind:
Followers of the Way, mind is without form and pervades the ten directions [i.e., it’s everywhere].
And he goes on to demonstrate what he means by “without form”:
In the eye it is called seeing, in the ear hearing, in the nose it smells odors, in the mouth it holds converse, in the hands it grasps and seizes, and in the feet it moves and runs. Fundamentally it is a single subtle radiance divided into six sensory perceptions.
And finally, he shows us the promise that we’re born with:
Yet since this mind is nothing, one is free, wherever one is!
So, shine as your own light – as the sun shines and the moon reflects without even trying – free of any thoughts of greed, anger, and ignorance to obscure that light. And then let your light shine upon others and upon the world, as it does within yourself.