Sunday, May 06, 2007

Zen Mind and Ordinary Mind

Several years ago I came across an interesting article on Zen in the Karate discussion website . I can't find the article now, but as far as I recall Rob Redmond criticised Zen meditation saying that it was 'just' the reduction of abstract thought, freeing up mental bandwidth for awareness of the present, in other words, it has no deep significance.

In a sense, this is right. Our ordinary conciousness consists largely of projections into the past, future and hypothetical situations. As the illustration above suggests, in this state out attention is largely temporal (forwards and backwards in time), leaving very little mental bandwith for awareness of the reality of what is actually occurring. Not only that, but (given the current impossibility of time travel) experiencing the past and future is impossible, so all of this awareness is virtual - it is hypothesised from what is going on now, such as memories and predictions based on deduction, intuition and experience. We take these abstractions for truth or reality and the process of projection and identification with past and future events causes us to see our life in terms of continuous existence. We wonder whether this continuity will cease with physical death or continue into an afterlife.

When we do zazen or similar meditation, this virtual activity quietens down and we become aware of what is actually going on. I don't mean that we suddenly gain special access to what is thought of as 'objective reality' or Kantian 'things-in-themselves'. But we experience the events of our life unmediated by thought - we experience the sounds of our breathing or sounds from outside directly, in all it's uniqueness and familiarity and it's indescribable complexity. We can feel the causal reverberations of the universe. We can't find anything (other than convention) to distinguish between the events in 'ourselves' from those 'outside'. Seeing our memories as experiences that literally 'we' did or didn't have no longer seems to mean much. The idea of annihilation or continuity into afterlife no longer seem to mean much. Instead memories and anticipations are just mental events occuring now - one more aspect of the relentless surge of change without real begining and end, which is the real nature of this life. To experience this is to experience Ku, Sunyata, emptiness.

I used to think that the aim of Zen was to exist in this state permenantly. However, this is impractical - we need memory and anticipation to survive. Also to see this state as real and the ordinary state as false or inferior is to create one more duality and duality is the activity of samsara, the deluded mind. The true aim of Zen as I understand it, is to find this emptiness in meditation and contemplation and to realise that when we meditate we are not creating emptiness nor are we moving from non-emptiness to emptiness - rather, we are paying attention to the emptiness which is the actual nature of all of our existence, whatever we are doing, whatever our state of mind. There never was a continuous self, nor continuous entities of any sort. There is only a vast rippling matrix of interdependent cause and effect. Looking inwards or outwards we can find no continuity. What we thought was the continuous existence of ourselves is really change. Whether we realise it or not existence is empty of self - whether we are in a 'zen state' or an 'ordinary state' there is no continuous self. We don't need to be in a special state to make emptiness real. The only thing that makes a difference in this respect is seeing the nature of things or not and how this affects our experience of living. In this sense ordinary mind and zen mind are already one, samsara and nirvana are not different.


At May 06, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The true aim of Zen is perhaps to realise that there is no aim and to give up seeking completely.

Likewise, whilst we have a preference for one state of mind over another there is still a picking and choosing and a duality.

Pure awareness without an observer is one state of awareness but might be useless or dangerous in some scenarios. Being unable to differentiate between stimuli that are conventionally considered to be internally arising (such as thoughts) and those that are considered to be externally arising (such as touch) could get you killed.

When there is no longer a seeking after or avoiding of particular 'states' of mind then these states will arise and fade naturall and spontaneously if they are natural. Artificial states no matter how wonderful require effort.

Sometimes it is nice to think lots of abstract thoughts. Sometimes it is nice to listen to the silence where no thoughts arise.

I've no idea whether it is nice or not when the observer is absent - such a thing is by definition not knowable.

To choose is to say "I like myself when...." and "I do not like it when...". The reasons for the choice can be many "Ancient texts say..."

But seeking to choose kills spontinaety and so not choosing allows me to be me in that momement and accept myself as I am in that moment. At that momement a sense of I may or may not be present.

Each of the three 'states' above bring with them there own benefits and drawbacks.

At May 06, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

4 stars, Justin.
excellent post.
stopped in before shutting down the computer for zazen and then work and very much enjoyed reading that. thanks, man!

At May 06, 2007, Blogger MudderPugger said...

oh, and VERY COOL pic!
where'd you get that, 24fightingchickens?

At May 06, 2007, Blogger Justin said...

Thanks MP. I made the diagram myself. Cheers

At May 06, 2007, Blogger Jinzang said...

Since I can't say it better than my teacher, I'll simply quote him. This is from his commentary on Lamp of Mahamudra, which eventually is going to be published as a book. Sorry for the length, but i think it's worth it.

There are three parameters or characteristics of resting the mind properly. The first is absence of distraction. You do not allow your mind to wander to outer or inner objects. You keep your mind in freshness, the direct experience of the present. While undistracted you must not tie the mind up or bind it. You do this by not exerting too much tension in body, speech, or mind. So the second point is effortlessness. You let your mind come to rest freely. The third point is that while engaging the faculty of mindfulness, one does not treat the practice as a remedy to distraction. You simply remain aware of your thoughts. The recollection does not oppose the thoughts. So the third point is that you rest the mind in a state that is aware of itself. There is no duality of thoughts and mindfulness. These points are summarized as resting undistractedly, resting freely, and resting in self aware mindfulness.

What do you do when a thought arises? Don't follow it. Just look at it directly. That's all you do. Don't try to do anything about it or try to stop it, or convert it to meditation, or conquer it. If you do that, that is not mahamudra and you have strayed from the essential point of not altering the mind.

The actual practice of mahamudra is insight. Just as tranquility was used in a particular way before, it is used in a specific sense in mahamudra. It refers to the direct experience of the mind's qualities and nature. Until there is a decisive resolution of what the mind is, all the meditation that you do has nothing to do the view that was pointed out. So you scrutinize the mind. The mind searches for characteristics within itself to see if it has them. You look to see where the mind came from where it is and where it goes you look for mind's beginning, middle, and end, whether it exists or not, is permanent or not, or whether it is beyond all of this. This must be investigated and seen and not accepted on the basis of authority or intellectual analysis. Understanding is not the same as seeing and until you see it you haven't reached the view. As long as you haven't reached the view, you won't know how to maintain the spontaneous maintenance of meditation. Until then meditation is still just tranquility and is just a kind of stupor. You have not yet gone beyond samsara.

So how do you resolve through scrutinize what the mind is? To move from tranquility to insight you must do two things. You must have dialog with an authentic guru. You must repeatedly report to a teacher and get authentic guidance. And you must pray to the guru and the lineage for their blessings to enter your heart. So what is the authentic insight? You experience for yourself what described as the ground and explained as the view. You experience the mind as self-cognizant and that it has had that ability from the beginning. This quality is known as the dharmakaya. Your mind sees its own wisdom, and because of this it involves no ideas or concepts. Your mind simply sees itself. In this self-recognition the mind's qualities are indivisible.

When this insight is achieved, it is experience and knowledge. But it is not conceptual, so you cannot explain it. This nature is self-arisen and self-illuminating. It is glaringly obvious. This is what is meant by insight. But this does not mean that what is recognized is anything new. The recognizing awareness was always there, but was never used. There was never a moment when this self-cognizing awareness was not there. But until blessings entered your heart, it was not recognized. What is resting in even placement and what is still or moving is this same self-cognizing awareness. An ordinary person who has never meditated, their thinking, no matter how deluded, was this self-cognizing awareness. When the mind experiences lucidity and insight, this is the same awareness. Until the self recognition occurs without any division between recognized and recognizer, there will be no awakening. When it occurs, whether your mind is still or moving, everything will arise as mahamudra. Whatever you experience with your senses or mind is not duality or bewilderment. It is only when you mind fixates on it and regards them as other, that it is duality. When the mind is pacified and seen nakedly and no concepts arise, that is insight.

At May 07, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice description of mahamudra.

At May 07, 2007, Blogger me said...

Very nice! Thanks. I love the "rippling matrix" image.


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