Monday, December 08, 2008
Thinking Mind and Correct View
There is no way we can make right and wrong and make them stay fixed in one place... If we become too attached to right and wrong, then this is the type of person we become.
A Lecture By The Venerable Hyunoon Sunim
of the Sixth Patriarch Zen Center, Berkeley
To try to get rid of our thoughts in the midst of our thoughts is a very foolish thing. Usually when we do meditation we find ourselves in the midst of a lot of thoughts and there we attempt to get rid of our thoughts. And because we try to do that, we are unable to come out of that darkness.
When we are in the midst of a lot of thinking, trying to get rid of our thoughts, we have to look at that person who is trying to get rid of the thoughts. If we do that, then our thoughts will disappear automatically. This is the first gate. If we can't do this much then when we try to make our mind pure and or quiet, it just makes us more confused. This sitting posture is something very helpful in terms of making our minds simpler. Energetically as well as emotionally, we become simpler on all levels but the sitting posture itself is not doing Zen.
Even if our mind is pure and quiet according to the conditions or environment, more thoughts can start to arise. When the mind is silent and pure we can start thinking, "ah, the meditation is going well!!". But usually when we are sitting in the middle of a lot of thinking, then our goal is to get rid of those thoughts and that means we have a certain limitation. If we can turn and look back at that person who is having all that thinking, then our thinking is cut off and when thinking is cut off the desire to get rid of the thoughts also disappears.
So there is no longer the thought of wanting to get rid of the thoughts. In the same way, if you cut a tree at its roots, this kills the whole tree, including the branches. If you only trim the branches the tree will just grow new branches. So you can end up just fighting with your thinking. It's cutting off the fundamental root. In other words we look at that place from which thoughts arise. This is why we do koan practice, contemplating the koan. We can understand this intellectually but when you try to do it and look back at your own mind, you're doing it without being aware of what you're doing right now. So there is a big difference between doing it and understanding. Understanding it means it is just a part of our intellect. We are not aware of what is arising in our mind in our ordinary daily life.
If we try to relate to this with the thinking that we know, every time we encounter circumstances they make us confused and busier. Knowing something intellectually, it becomes something that we always have to know. It causes us tension and confusion. So this practice is different from what we can know, but if your thinking is cut off then our mind becomes no mind. In other words, the mind is pure. Because the mind is pure, there is no thinking. And when we say the mind disappears, this does not mean that you become an idiot. You have thinking but you are no longer attached to those thoughts so you don't pay attention to them. So you are no longer bothered by those thoughts.
If you are in a state of no mind, even though something new might come up, you are not bothered by it. So there is no problem when it comes to adapting to conditions. Most people in those conditions become stressed by trying to remember, "When its like this I have to be like this and when it's like that, I have to be like that." When something unexpected comes along, we don't know what to do, but this is life.
Zen has nothing to do with that. In Zen all things just pass by. In Zen it is simply observing what arises and disappears in the mind. All things in this world disappear. The mind arises and disappears, the body arises and disappears and all thinking arises and disappears. And this is what we come to see. If we are to see this correctly, we need to be in the state of no mind. If you do not have the state of no mind and someone is doing the looking, when something arises we become attached and when something disappears we become attached. And when something arises we start thinking "why did this arise" and when something disappears you feel sad it is gone, it feels like you've lost something. Because of these conditions, our sentient being mind is always unstable.
If you are always then searching for something under these conditions then your sense of wandering will be endless. And this is why they say "to seek is to suffer". It's important to understand this before doing meditation. As you live in the conditioned world things arise and disappear, if you then search for comfort and peace, then your struggles can never disappear. In Buddhism it is taught that all things are impermanent, but to say things are impermanent is not talking about annihilation.
Its when you want to achieve something and you are unsuccessful in achieving it then you give upâ€¦ that is annihilation. This is different from impermanence. With Zen, when something arises you are uninvolved with it and when it disappears, you are still uninvolved with it. So in those situations it doesn't matter to you.
If we can correctly realize these principles, then we will engage in less unnecessary suffering. So this is a way of the Tao. The best method of doing this is contemplating the koan. The koan is directly looking at the place where the mind is cut off. If you practice the koan directly, when the mind arises, the Buddha nature is there. When the mind disappears the koan is there. Buddha nature is everywhere. The Buddha nature is there where thoughts arise, the Buddha nature is there when we experience suffering. It's there when we laugh and speak and where we hear the sound of birds. Buddha nature is there when we hear cars going back and forth on the street.
But if our mind becomes obscured by one thought then this is where we become deluded. When we are deluded, then we become confused when things appear and disappear. Like a spider web, if we pull on one string, the whole spider web moves. So when society moves, we move. When something says something that upsets us, we will become angry immediately so we can't avoid suffering. In that condition we might think our thinking is correct but its actually upside down. In upside down thinking it's very difficult to find what's correct and incorrect. There is no way we can make right and wrong and make them stay fixed in one place. So we're always searching to make the distinction between right and wrong. And this just develops the mind that makes distinctions and choices. Then we hold onto what looks good and discard what looks bad. This is the kind of habits that sentient beings have developed.
As long as we are in that condition we cannot avoid tension; tension causes our emotions to become stuck, our energy flow becomes stuck and our blood will not circulate efficiently. Then we are not helping, physically or mentally. So we have to quickly let go of these things. If we become too attached to right and wrong, then this is the type of person we become.
In reality because all things are like that, we cannot avoid those things. If we can awaken to this principle, we'll see that what we thought was correct, after we consider it with experience and hindsight, we'll realize we were not correct. There are times that what was not correct before is now appropriate or correct. Usually with human problems this is where mistakes are made.
Because we're deluded, without wisdom, we make incorrect distinctions. So as a result we can have arguments with our friends, we can miss the correct path, miss the opportunity to awaken. In a marriage, people can end up divorcing, caught up in legal problems and we can also become very involved in society's problems. If we look at the source of the problems, we can see that they began with very small insignificant things. Because they begin with small things, it's much easier to correct them when they are small. If we don't correct the small things, they become big problems. When they become big problems we fall into very difficult situations and become covered up and tied up in a big net of confusion, suffering. Most people live in this kind of condition. When we live in this condition, we have no idea where it all began.
There is a method of resolving it but we have to awaken to our mind.
If we look at the teachings of the ancient masters, there's a story of a fish in a bowl with a very small opening. The fish gets into the bowl when it was small. But while the fish lived in the bowl it got bigger and is now to big to get out of the small opening. How can we get the fish out without breaking the bowl and without hurting the fish? What I've been talking about this morning is precisely explaining this situation, reality of this koan.
From the point of view of someone who has experienced Zen, this is the life of ordinary people. Without discarding all of the complex arcane habits we have created ourselves, we try to see how we can extract that Buddha nature from within us. This is the koan. Our thinking will not disappear by using our thinking. We look at the place where the thought arises. We are looking back at ourself. That is where the Buddha nature is. When we awaken to our Buddha nature, we awaken to Zen. Zen is something that is not stained by anything. Its not stained even by complex thinking. It is always free from the spider's web. Because you've experienced this world of freedom, when it comes to spider webs within you, even if you search for them, they are not there. Because they're not there, when you look at reality, you see it as the world of the Buddha.
At that level, the Tathagata is everywhere, in the sound of traffic Zen is there, in the bird's singing Zen is there. Buddhism is very simple when you look at it from the perspective of having awoken. But if you are trying to get rid of your thoughts while in the midst of your thinking, then Buddhism is the most difficult thing in the world.
So we need to trust these basic principles and refrain from making useless effort. As we live in the world and our body we meet other people living in the midst of their problems, then actually having this human body itself is a problem. Anyone who is alive can't avoid having problems. Because it is people with problems all living together, we can't avoid problems.
What can we do to live in the midst of problems but not be caught by them? If we look at the koan correctly, we see that we live obscuring ourselves. When conditions are good and you become a little more tolerant but when conditions are not good, you become frozen. When we are in that frozen condition we are not very tolerant and we complain. When we're in good conditions we become more tolerant and broad minded. This is the character of human beings. If we can understand this fundamentally we will be less involved when compulsions appear.
Because this is the condition in which most people live, you must not make judgments of how people live. Just when you encounter these conditions you just say, "oh, this is the world of sentient beings", and you remind your self that "it's because of this that I have to practice". When this is the condition of sentient beings, how can we not practice? So we have to continue inspiring ourselves. If we don't do that and we just complain and say, "why is the world like this?" physically and mentally we just become more frozen and then you end up entering even darker delusion.
When we observe human beings we see that today they are like this, tomorrow they are like that and you wonder why are they change so. This affects your nerves and you end up suffering. These kinds of situations usually arise between people who are quite close to each other, like as a couple or a lawyer and a client. They don't happen with people to whom you have a more distant relationship; they arise between people who are closest to each other.
When we read the scriptures we see there is a wise path and you trust that more. In turn this makes you more comfortable. You'll arrive at that path of the mind. The fastest path to the mind is the Zen koan. In the koan, there is no thought of the past present and future, it is simply relating to the thought that is arising in this moment. You do not think if you have suffering or not. If you are alive and breathing right now, then it is possible for you to do this practice. This moment is important. If you practice this koan correctly in this moment, then the solution becomes clear. Because our Buddha nature has not left us in this moment, the Truth has not left us in this moment.
If we don't know the method of approaching it, then we feel as though we are very distant from each other. If we don't look at the truth, then we end up seeing more delusion. And it looks as though that world actually exists.
If you awaken you will see, honestly, that that illusion does not exist and that the world is NOT a complex place. When you change, then the world changes. So you need to absolutely believe in this Buddha nature and you have to throw away your common sense. You'll have to discard your stubbornness when you insist on what you think is right or wrong. You need to begin by realizing that maybe your judgments or opinions are wrong. That is how you need to begin looking at yourself. Your biases need to be released, surrendered. Only when opinions and judgments are released can greater things inside start to come forth.
Don't try to awaken to your Buddha nature in some contrived artificial way. If you decide that Zen is the best way, the fastest way, and just try to slowly do Zen, there's only one path but if you try to get there all at once, you'll get caught up in the traffic and confusion and your practice won't go as well. You may think, "well, I need to relieve my suffering as quickly as possible so what's wrong with practicing as quickly as possible?" That mind that wants to do it quickly becomes a hindrance so you need to look back at yourself and realize that you're doing nothing. Then in one moment, that mind will be clear.
Because you get caught in the mind that you're clinging to, then that mind that you're clinging to is demolished. And as that mind is demolished then your energy will settle down and you become more grounded, as you become more grounded, your mind will become silent. When you become silent, then wisdom comes.
This is why human beings are simple even though they seem complex. Human beings are simple but when they take a wrong step, then they become complex. So no matter what kind of difficulty comes up, there's no reason to worry about it. According to your thinking, it can get worse or better. So don't allow your mind to move following those kinds of ideas. Things become better or worse according to your thinking. When you're wrong habits become stuck then you don't believe this kind of talk and you become confused, entangled.
Then even though you haven't found the correct path yourself, you go off searching in the direction of darker places. Through that, your mind eventually becomes worn out and you become ill physically and mentally. This is the condition of sentient beings, which the Buddha saw very clearly. Usually people who see this clearly for themselves become Buddhist monks.
Some say, "well there is a lot of happiness in the world, why look at all this suffering?" Well, of course that's true, but happiness comes along less often than suffering. The conditions which cause happiness can change very quickly. It comes and goes like night becomes day. When something bad comes along, it can become worse and that can lead to worse things, even disaster. Heaven is very small. The entranceway to it is also very small. Once you enter it, it's very vast, but the entrance is small. So there aren't many who get through.
So we need to make ourselves simple and let go of our thinking and make up our mind to begin. Once we get past a certain level, we come to learn every day in reality. In the beginning we learn from the teacher but eventually we hear and see the teachings from everywhere.
Learning from the Buddha is exactly learning from sentient beings. In the beginning we think of learning from the Buddha, but that is actually illusion. Someone who does not know how to learn from sentient beings does not know how to learn from the Buddha. Through our parents we grew up and since this is not something we can do alone, we need a teacher. Gradually as we practice we learn to hear the teachings everywhere. When that happens, we can know we are on the correct path.
People, even Zen monks can spend 30 years or 50 years practicing, but they're only practice separating themselves from their own mind. As a child I had a close friend who was a monk. He told me that since he was an abbot he would have to go off to a hermitage and practice alone. I said "when you go, where would you go??" When you talk about going, where are you going. Right now you can practice where do you want to go?
We're always avoiding our own Buddha within us. With our own thinking we create a very comfortable world. Then we think, "if I can only be there, then my practice would go well. Most people think that way. Even if you could go there and achieve something, then another mind would still come up because that is the sentient mind. We need to stop that habit. The Buddha is here. Where are you going to run away to the Buddha? The Buddha is here in this moment so its right there where you look. When you do that your mind changes and right here becomes your hermitage, your Zen home. That's what you have to do but people want to go somewhere else and keep making excuses. We need to look at that and see how very foolish it is. When I talk on the telephone to distant students about their practice this is usually what they complain about. They have a house and they practice and yet they complain. It's so clear that people live in illusion. Is it illusion who is living here or is it you who is living here?
We need to become aware in a simple way that even if your Zen practice doesn't go well even if you can just have this awareness you can be more comfortable.
Because we exist in the world, that is why the world is existing. So who is existing in the world? If you contemplate this way you can know your mind and when you see your own mind you can see when and where your mind is stuck. When you see where your mind is stuck, mind arises. When you see there you see your miraculous awareness. Miraculous awareness means Zen mind, Buddha mind, and its empty. Space. When we look at it this way then the attachment disappears. In other words, I'm saying don't fight with reality and don't fight with your own mind. These are things that will change. Its because we think that they won't change that we fight with them. But they are all things that will change. Birds come and sit in the tree and soon they will leave, so why do you try to grasp them? Our mind is like that too. It comes from somewhere and goes off to somewhere. The Buddha and other masters have taught this from awakened view. Anyone who can see will confirm it. The Buddha's teaching is not just the private teaching of Shakyamuni Buddha. The correct view of human beings is just like that. This has nothing to do with religion, this is correct for anyone.
This is referred to as correct view in the Eight-Fold Path. Anyone who awakens sees the same thing. Anyone who sees this becomes the correct disciple of the Buddha. Zen brings this awakening.
Your problem is that right now there is that emotional consciousness; you're not able to see right now. But it's that that you become aware of; look at it. If you look at it and follow it down there is an ocean of truth. No matter what kind of thinking you have, that thinking has never left truth. But since your way of approaching it is incorrect, then its like turning your back on that truth.
Now look at your own question and follow it downward, because that thinking has come from you, so that is what you look at. This is becoming aware, awareness. When you look at this there is the ocean of truth and the Zen mind. And that is precisely the koan, the miraculous awareness. It's mysterious. Here there is no individual view, it's an ocean. The five senses have become empty.
The five senses are empty but there is a hole. So you are using your five senses you are using them and yet not using them. It's like doing without doing. You do it but you're not attached to it. We can't just use theories. You actually have to see your original nature. So when you ask your question, look to see who is asking, from where are you asking? That's why old Zen masters were always asking: "who is asking?" The world is simple but we don't recognize it. The root of the fellow who's asking the question is the Buddha. But most people, when they ask, they take this narrow mind that asks the question and through that try to OBTAIN something. Then through what they obtain they try to build something. That's precisely knowledge but it becomes a burden and it actually even closes more the entrance to the Buddha. This is why we say when you enter the Zen hall don't bring anything with you. Don't bring any knowledge. One includes everything.
It's because of this problem that we do contemplation. This sitting posture is the best. As we sit here there are many different obstacles. We have many opinions, heavy ideas, customs, morals, questions, conceptions, misconceptions, ideas, a lot of confusion, but while we are sitting like this, one. Mind and body is one. This helps this body that's part of why we sit. Become one. If we have too many questions we can't contemplate any one of them. Trust the Buddha mind. If we ask only "who is asking" then that is one." Your ordinary mind disappears. Gradually as it becomes deeper you come to Buddha mind. Once you have experienced this, you realize all the things you are clinging to have been completely foolish. That is when you can let go. This is why we do Zen to be able to see and let go. This practice is possible for everyone at any time.
We have not let go of our complicated habits and haven't even realized what they are. We also don't yet have enough faith. We sit by ourselves and research this way and that way, and if we're next to someone else, they can tell what we are doing, so then we hide under some blanket. Your mind gets lazy. At that time we need to be well hit to wake you up!!!
This path is very possible for everyone to follow but I think it's just a lack of faith which prevents people from doing so.
In Zen when we talk about questions and answers, we are not talking about ordinary questions and answers because originally the answer is within you. In some ways, asking questions is rather stupid from the point of view of high-level Zen. But because we don't yet know what the path is, then there has to be questions and a learning process, but the answer is actually within you.
In ancient times, when someone asked the master a question, he would only reply by hitting them. So in order to do that, continually work at the contemplation. If you become good at contemplation, the teacher can know immediately whether the student is doing Zen correctly. He can know without any words being exchanged. The way you walk, the way you sit, the teacher can know. To know about Zen through asking and answering is a low-level Zen, and dangerous, because its very easy to misunderstand that way.