Monday, May 21, 2007

No mind but Mind? Or are minds incorporated in Mind?

You could lose your mind going over that title (snicker).

One thing that struck me when reading an online discussion on Chan recently is the old conundrum over words like "mind" and "heart" as well as "arising". I think when many people hear "mind" they think of an individual unit, such as your mind or my mind. The same with "heart". Moreover, the word mind is used to refer to cognitive processes involving perception and intellect, which combine to produce phenomena such as imagination and memory. On the other hand, the word heart is often taken to mean desire and emotional attachment/response. So with such thinking I can show the form of someone's heart by getting them to reveal their desires, their hopes, their fears, etc. Similar we can do the same with someone's mind.

Initially, I stopped talking about Mind because people thought I was talking about "a" mind, and switched over to talking about the heart. But then people thought I was talking about "a" heart rather than Heart. In both cases, the capitalized terms, I suggest, refer to profound awareness. This is not standard cognitive awareness (i.e. consciousness) - it would be more like that of which such awareness is... err, well...aware. That which is the connection of all form and the actualization of emptiness. One can compare this to light and sight. In this analogy sight is our perceptual awareness of light as consciousness is our perceptual awareness of....well, what to call it, eh? If you call it Mind, Heart, Awareness, or anything else, we are naming the sound by its shadow. That's where the ineffable nature of reality-as-it-is comes in - it is no more or less than it is. A tree is a tree because there is no tree, and all of that.

If we accept the principle that form perpetually/simultaneously arises and dissolves from/out of/back into emptiness in perpetual creation (form is emptiness, emptiness is form), then the distinction between immanent and transcendent is a trick of our "mind" (small m), a.k.a. dualistic perception. That is why I feel that paying attention, without resorting to judgment or elaboration or abstraction, is vital. While the intellect can be useful, both it and physical perception are inherently limited and introduce a bias in understanding. They are good tools but not always the right tools for every job. The minute we try to think about something like our true nature, we become lost in abstractions and fail to be aware of our true nature. It's like a catch 22 - you have to experience it and let it be what it is, and the minute you "try" to understand it, you've fallen into the trap that there are distinct things called "you" and your "true nature".

That is why I appreciate Hui Neng's (6th ancestor in Chan, a.k.a 6th Patriarch in Zen) admonition to find a thought that is nowhere supported. It isn't the drooling mindless of having no thoughts in your head, or the cold vacancy of no feeling in your heart (small m, small h). Not what I affectionately call the zombie Buddhist. Not seeing such things, which comprise the ego, as a foe to be fought or ignored, but simply for what it is/they are, without claiming it or taking ownership of it as yours, mine or ours. To truly grasp (realize? ...notice?) that sitting is sitting, crapping is crapping, scratching is scratching. No greater or deeper revelation is necessary or useful from abstract reflection or the senses to improve upon such Awareness (which is not an obsessive focus of great mental force being constantly applied like some kind of neurotic, debilitating self-consciousness). And in that situation, one is also not "being in the moment", which is already an abstraction and the start of dualistic thinking (there's you and there's the moment), but simply being (or perhaps Being)

One comment in the aforementioned discussion that provoked my interest was that Zen arises from the heart (as opposed to coming from teachers, books, rituals, etc). However, if we aren't talking about the transmission of techniques and methods for allowing us to get out of our own way in recognizing such Awareness, but rather that Awareness itself, then one could say that Zen/Chan arises in the heart in so much as we rediscover it in opening ourselves to the truth of reality-as-it-is as so crudely and poorly described in the preceding paragraph. It doesn't so much come into being in our heart (little h) as we realize its Presence. Perhaps rather than saying it arises in our heart one could say that we discover our Heart. Which would go along with the previous suggestion that Chan/Zen is already present without any particular teacher telling us it is so.

Which is why it is true to say there is nothing to attain but also why teachers can be so helpful in reminding us of that is so!

1 comment:

  1. In the same discussion, there was an inquiry about whether my use of the imagery "form arises from emptiness" correlated with the existentialist view that existence preceded essence. I think it helps to flesh out what I wrote above, so here was my reply...

    First I must give an often repeated caveat. I am not strongly versed in formal philosophy nor am I any kind of Dharma teacher. I am a lazy informal student of Chan/Pure Land (and Mahayana Buddhism in general) who spends too much time thinking about and intellectualizing everything.

    So, after all that, I would say first that "form arises from emptiness" is incomplete, as form then dissolves back into emptiness. But not really. It is a simultaneous process. As I mentioned above, arising (and by extension dissolving) is not to say that anything is created or destroyed, but rather that the aspect of existence we are calling form is in flux owing to the aspect of existence called emptiness. Even that isn't quite right. It's just the closest I can come to at present from the historical dimension/perspective. Maybe others can do better. Form cannot exist apart from emptiness, neither can emptiness exist without form. They are different aspects of the same reality. That's why the key of the heart sutra is so important and why I quoted it. So essence cannot precede existence, nor can existence precede essence.

    Of course, when I looked up the principle of "existence precedes essence", the gist was that 1) there is no fixed individual human essence such as an eternal soul and 2) there is no inherent meaning to anything, only that which we create/ascribe to our experiences. Going back to the coequal necessity of form and emptiness "to each other", I would agree with point #1 and disagree with point #2. For me, true meaning is the nature of the relationships between phenomena. I will try to be brief in unpacking that a little.

    As for the first part of point #2... In order for anything to exist in the historical dimension of space/time, there has to be a minimum of two distinguished phenomena. This requires a relationship between them (this relationship is expressed in our thinking as space). If you have no relationship, you have no phenomena, and if you have no phenomena, you have no relationship. One cannot precede or exist without the other. If we have a third object, then we can have time (and with space and time we can have motion). If there were only one thing, with no differentiation, there would be nothing at all. What we call meaning is our attempt to describe or model such relationships. So without invoking a Creator, meaning is inherent to (I would say fundamental to/permits) existence itself. It is neither created nor imposed. It just is.

    As for the second part of point #2, I feel that the concept that "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is a principle that refutes both eternalism and nihilism. I wrote about this once a couple years ago to clarify my understanding to myself, and I likely cannot improve much upon it now, so if anyone is interested, you can read that attempt here.


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