Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reflections: Mind Cannot be Grasped (IV) and Why Dogen Went to China

The phrase 'Mind Cannot be Grasped', the title of Shobogenzo Chapters 18 and 19, is from the Diamond Sutra. An implication of the Diamond Sutra I'm still processing is that, in any given moment, the best way to keep the Four Vows, including 'Beings are numberless, I vow to save them' is to be in the moment without projecting a self onto the moment and simply responding to each moment as it arises. And I can see how living each moment by dropping off our expectations for the moment allows the energies of Indra's net to pass through us in a manner that causes the least obstruction and suffering for ourselves and others.

But 'Buddha mind', 'true self' or 'no-self' is unself-conscious. As I understand it 'Buddha mind' is pure awareness and perception prior to thinking, interpretation or judgement. Even the mind detecting Buddha mind when it arises, or the attempt to attain or maintain Buddha mind, is self-conscious and isn't Buddha mind.

In addition, the unself-conscious state is not acting selfless. To act selfless, in the conventional sense, a person would have to have a sense of self too.

Living as a hermit monk in the mountains of China doesn't guarantee Buddha mind either. And once we're born we have a place as a node in Indra's net and I think non-action or removing oneself to a mountain monastery also sends ripples through the energy field that can't be predicted as much as we might hope, even though it might grant some peace of mind. My own experience going to Antaiji and the reactions of some friends and family are an example from my own experience.

Here's why I'm still processing:

For awhile now I've had the feeling that being a bodhisattva and being a buddha aren't necessarily the same thing.

While I may be projecting myself onto the Shobogenzo, my understanding is that a similiar conviction is what motivated Dogen to go to China. 'Buddha mind' or unself-conscious no-self can't be the whole story. If it were the whole story then practice, the precepts, and the eight-fold path would be pointless for the enlightened being.

The bodhisattva, seeing Indra's net, can't leave the world and its suffering. This realization appears to me to be the motivation for practice based on enlightenment. Practice, following the precepts and the eight-fold path from an enlightened perspective, ie with an understanding of Indra's net and the causes of suffering is the direction that guides us forward in time. From this perspective I can see why Dogen felt such a reverence for the Buddha-dharma and practice.

I have to admit, to some extent, the Diamond Sutra has felt like I've been handed Kryptonite because dropping off expectations for the moment and present moment awareness is actually something I've been naturally good at and has been a source of peace and strength for me. I've become self-conscious about what came easily for me in ignorance. Was Dogen similarly plagued? I have no way of knowing. But here is my working strategy for the moment: Trusting in practice is my direction. And zazen gives us practice in dropping off thinking mind and returning to the ground that is emptiness and awareness of 'Now'.

Not coming or going, the pure awareness and perception that is Buddha mind is always present. The entity that is 'me' only has to get out of the way. I think that trusting in practice is a good way to allow that to happen.


Haiku for these Chapters:

Mind with no abode —
Buddha throughout the three times
And ten directions.

Constantly the mind
Comes, goes, living and dying —
Constantly the earth.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reflections: Mind Cannot Be Grasped (III) - A Gatha

Buddha mind is just connecting. Connecting with what is present.

Connecting without expectation. Connecting without expectation for the moment.

Connecting without trying to project a self onto the moment, be it past self, present self, future self, or Buddha self.

Connecting with now.

Reminds me of Dogen :

Driving ourselves to practice and experience the myriad dharmas is delusion.

When the myriad dharmas actively practice and experience ourselves, that is the state of realization.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reflections: Mind Cannot Be Grasped (II) — Mind like the Sky

The mind likes to make and tell stories. But what I've begun to sense as I've gotten further into the Shobogenzo is that the thoughts and stories that underlie behavior and mind-state from moment to moment, including the story of a permanent self, are like clouds drifting through the sky — the sky of awareness.

The more I sit the more it seems like it's not the story of 'self' or any other story that's permanent, rather it's this awareness, or our awareness of this, that we sometimes tap into while sitting that's the constant presence. We are this awareness more than any specific story. Moreover, I think our ability to be content and happy depends on our ability to be present within this awareness.

Nonetheless making and telling stories is one of the functions of the brain. The brain takes what it perceives in each sensory system and tries to organize the different types of information into a unified picture that serves as the basis for a plan of action. Some of stories are necessary for our survival. The extent to which that's true, however, appears to me to be only a fraction of what our mind would like us to believe.

I get the sense that the more tightly we grasp onto or after stories, the more separation we create and this separation leads to suffering. Stories are typically self-centered and limited by our tendency to selectively attend to those bits of reality that, according to our stories, are most important to us. The resulting disconnect between the stories and reality creates an almost continual sense of dissatisfaction with things as they are. That sense of dissatisfaction functions a bit like a negative feedback loop that provides the motivation or drive for corrective adjustments (or the setting of goals) that aim to bring things in line — in line with our stories about self.

It not that 'self' doesn't exist. We have bodies and minds to prove it. And it's not that stories should be, or even can be, eliminated. I think our stories are part of what makes the experience of being human beautiful. Rather with zazen I think it's possible to relax our tendency to grasp as we begin to trust the constancy of awareness. The sense that I get is that trusting in awareness allows 'self' to be more flexible by being more present and in tune with our immediate reality. Trusting in awareness allows us to see more of the whole sky.

I admit I still have my stories. Right now, all things considered, my trust in this awareness feels like the most important one.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reflections: Mind Cannot Be Grasped (I)

In any given moment the extent to which we are able to let go of our expectations for that moment determines our ability to access peace, contentment, freedom and happiness in that moment.

It's not that we shouldn't have thoughts, goals, dreams and hopes for the future, it's the nature of the mind to create them. Society capitalizes on that tendency. It's also not that conditions and circumstances should be denied if they are less than perfect or that we shouldn't make an effort to improve conditions and circumstances if we can. But it is my current sense that the gate to contentment and happiness can only ever be found in the present, in the here and now, irrespective of conditions and circumstances.

In each moment we have a choice of whether we are going to attribute the presence or, more usually, absence of contentment and happiness during the specific moment to external conditions and circumstances beyond our momentary control or whether we are willing to take responsibility for our own state of mind by relaxing our expectations for the moment and allowing ourselves to be.

Zazen is a good way to learn how to drop off expectations for the moment and take responsibility for our state of mind. There is no good sitting or bad sitting. Zazen is just sitting, sitting without expectation of how zazen should be and, in fact, can be... when we let go of our expectations during any given round of zazen.