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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(December 20, 2008)

Mind Without Marks
by Abbot John

“The Buddha sees things of this world as reflections of light;
And explains that the nature of all things is always quiescent,
is without solidity and has no resting place in any state of being.
The Suchness of the Universe never moves.
This is the realization of tranquility."”

--the Flower Ornament Scripture (Avatamsaka Sutra)

In the twisted veering pathways that I have come to call my mind it seems logical that I begin a commentary on the Lankavatara with a passage from the Avatamsaka. Bear with me, this could take awhile.

Our Order of Hsu Yun can trace its lineage back into the dim past where two luminaries distinguish themselves: Bodhidharma and Hui-Neng.

Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Zen, is considered the man who brought Zen to China; and Hui-Neng, is the Sixth Patriarch in this line and the last to hold the "robe and bowl" symbols of the office. The symbols are not the point of these meanderings, but the two patriarchs' shared view of the Dharma is.

The stories that make up the legends of both men are known to most Buddhists in the West, from the well known nine years' “wall gazing” of Bodhidharma to the sudden enlightenment of Hui-Neng. If you are not familiar with them it is worth the time to become so, if merely for the entertainment they provide during an evening’s conversation with imaginary friends.

If we were to just skim their stories we could come away thinking that they had completely opposing views about realizing the Dharma. Apocryphally, Bodhidharma sits and gazes at a wall for nine years, and Hui-Neng seems to disparage this type of approach with statements that suggest it may be easier to make a mirror polishing a brick than to make a Buddha sitting on a cushion. But that conclusion would be wrong. The difference is merely contextual. Both men’s views were strikingly similar, as well as fascinating. I find them fascinating for the simple reason that I agree with them. That’s my usual ‘operandi’ for determining fascination. Both held the following:

Both men were strong proponents of the realization of the Dharma by "mind only." Those of us who think that we can think our way to this realization need to be reminded that "mind" and "discursive thought" are not synonymous terms.

Our search is, in its experiential sense, an individual journey but it also is a discovery undertaken by mankind in the collective sense as well. We (mankind) have an innate curiosity that pushes us to discovery. The tools used to manipulate and satisfy that curiosity are stored in mind. Purely for the purpose of this evening’s conversation with our imaginary friends, it will perhaps be best if we attempt to define what we mean by mind since that’s the only way we can realize Noble Wisdom.

Universal Mind, Intuitive Mind, and Discriminating Mind

Universal Mind, or Cosmic Mind as it is sometimes called, is the storage and clearing house of all the accumulated products of mentation and action since beginningless time. This is something all mystics have sensed, or realized and for the purposes of tonight’s discussion is our resting point. We are not concerned where this Universal Mind came from, just what it is and how we contact it.

Discriminating Mind is the individual human being's ego-conscious mind, its five skandhas (form; feeling; sensory input; desire; awareness) and memories retained in the personal unconscious.

Between Universal Mind and the individual's Discriminating Mind is the Intuitive Mind,, the Collective Unconscious, which interacts with both.

Intuitive Mind depends upon Universal Mind since that is its origin and its nature. It shares Universal Mind's purity and universality, and like it, is above form and time. It is through the intuitive mind that Buddhahood's benign intentions manifest and are realized. Fortunate it is that this intuitive mind is not subject to the constraints of time; for if the enlightenment which comes through intuition were subject to the vagaries of time, the wise might lose their "wiseness" - which they do not. But the intuitive-mind also enters into relations with the lower, discriminating mind system. It shares the individual's experiences and reflects upon its activities. The most characteristic mark of this mind-system is personality.

Although there are three different translations of the Lankavatara - and D. T. Suzuki was of the opinion that its source was actually a collection of notes and not a single coherent line (sutra) of thought, most Buddhists agree that the intuitive-mind is both one with Universal Mind by reason of its participation in Transcendental Intelligence (Arya-jnana), and is one with Discriminating Mind by its comprehension of differentiated knowledge (vijnana)

Intuitive-mind has no body of its own or any marks by which it can be differentiated and in this it shares, in essence, with the Universal Mind.

The ego has no thought but that by its discriminations and attachments it establishes a conditional relationship between itself (which includes the body it occupies) and the external environment. Numerous factors enter into the reasons why the ego forms an attraction or an aversion or is indifferent to any thing that it encounters. Nature and nurture and the luck of the draw place us all in the positions we find ourselves. Why we act in a certain way is an infinite series of causes and effects (because of this, that…because of that, this); how we act in a certain way is what constitutes our individual style of strategizing our interactions.

Discriminating Mind evolved along with the notion of an ego to which it clings and upon which it reflects. Through Intuitive Mind, by the faculty of inherent awareness either by instinctual knowledge or by insight achieved independently of experience, (a priori) the inconceivable wisdom of Universal Mind is revealed if, of course, the Discriminating Mind deigns to look inwards at its source instead of outwards at its environment.

Perhaps the interactions of the constantly changing conscious ego with the slow-to-change collective unconscious give the ego a sense of control over what it cares to consider important and worthy of its attentions. Unaware of the pressures of the various universal instincts, Discriminating Mind determines that its individual immortal soul is unique, and so is every other man's immortal soul.

The ego-conscious mind reflects on what it has experienced, and it readily concludes that it has been the primary actor and that its decisions were made, under the given circumstances, with due regard for others and in its own best interests - whether or not the result proved to be beneficial. There is a line, thinner than a quark, between right and wrong perception here. Every experience the discriminating mind reflects upon is observed from its unique point of view. Just as we cannot savor the sweetness of another man's tea but are limited to imagining the degree of its sweetness, we can only imagine how another man observes an experience. We cannot determine it factually by simply looking. Fortunately, we are able to invent or accept any explanation that suits us. (In short, whatever happens always happens first of all to me.)

Because it sees everything through the eyes of the prejudicial ego, Discriminating Mind is not qualified to engage in the determination of truth: Facts, specific knowledge, value judgments, syllogistic reasoning, yes, it can engage, but in the determination of Truth, it cannot.

Attaining Nirvana requires the extinction of Discriminating Mind. This is not done by a well placed scalpel leading to a frontal lobotomy, but, according to the Lankavatara Sutra and personal experience, by a "turning-about" in the deepest seat of consciousness.

The ego habitually looks outward at the external world and all its people, places, and things in order to manipulate them into serving the Intuitive Mind's instinctual needs, e.g., self-preservation, reproduction, etc. When these external needs are fulfilled (the kids have left the nest and the wife devotes her time to recapturing her youth and friends are defined by handicap) the man who quests for enlightenment has reached the point at which he must drain away all the emotional attention he has lavished upon the world. This act of detachment enables him to withdraw all those instinctual personifications and to restore them to the Intuitive Mind. It is then that the questing individual can turn his attention around and look inwardly at the now-reconstituted "pantheon" of his collective unconscious. He dedicates his thoughts to attaining an intimate relationship with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that inhabit this interior world; the result of his or her intuitive Self-realization of Noble Wisdom attained by the individual mind. C.G.Jung’s, thought structure is a marvelous method and tool for understanding this process.

Metaphorically think of what happens as a child becomes a man. There is a gradual loosening of the “I, me, mine” perspective on the world. As a toddler grows into childhood and the child to a teen and a teen to a man, there is no point at which the toddler can be convinced to discard his “toddlerness” and become the child or the child his childishness to become a teen or a teen his “teenagedness” and become a man until there is an internal perspective change. No amount of talk will do the job and while it is conditioned by time it is not determined by it. The toddler does not understand the child, the child the teen, or the teen the man. The same can be said of a man and an “enlightened man”. No amount of talk will turn one into the other without the change of perspective, the “turning-about” at the deepest seat of consciousness. That normal but gradual loosening of the “I, me, mine” perspective is finally and suddenly extinguished. The stages of man are more than we commonly speak about and in the final stage of man, man becomes Bodhisattva and Bodhisattva becomes Buddha. Stretching the metaphor to its limit, all that’s left of the child is the man and all that’s left of the man is Buddha.

Much has been written and taught on how to raise a child and surprising much has also been written on how to raise a man

Everyone is familiar with the Zen proverb (aphorism – mondo - whatever we call these things in Zenspeak) that goes something like this: The Buddha never spoke a word of truth. All the Tathagatas from beginningless time through all the triple worlds none has spoken a word of truth and never will.

The Lankavatara Sutra concerns this concept. The Buddha talks, sutras are written, and commentaries are made by the "intellect" of the discriminating mind. All of these should be considered as nothing more than “expedient means.” These words, writings, and comments are all meant to cajole, nudge, encourage questioning, inspire faith, and so on; but never do they convey reality, or "the truth." So relentlessly does the ego manipulate perception and interpret words to suit its whims, that verbal truth is no truth at all... in a manner of speaking.

“Getting rid of the discriminating ego-mind" lets us know that when we are questing to attain Nirvana, we have to understand that we will not read, think, or argue our way to the goal.

As we reduce the habit of one way, externalized attention, and increase the habit of reversing our attention's direction, we can better see where some of this “Zen talk” emanates. They are intuitive flashes and not an easy way to communicate especially since our well-trained discriminating mind feels threatened by such things as wordless intuitive flashes. (Plus it’s hard to order from the a la carte menu without speaking, unless you’ve been married as long as I have and even then it’s problematic).

From the Avatamsaka's lines that opened this essay comes a very clear description of the Suchness of the Universe, this Noble Wisdom. We can all agree that this discovery of the nature of all things is precisely what our journey is about; and it matters not one iota what we call it, God, Buddha-nature, Allah or Suchness of the Universe. They are all names pointing at the same reality; included in that reality, by definition, is our nature as well. And while we have a clear description of it and we can describe it in a sutra or discuss it in the counsels of the wise, we cannot transmit the understanding of it verbally. The transmission (or understanding of it) is by mind only – internalized as Self-realization.

Some may look at those statements and feel it says absolutely nothing that the discriminating mind can reformulate or expand upon in argument. That is exactly the point.

This description of the nature of all things clearly comes from an experiential reference. It is an expression of a realization, not an expression of logic or metaphysical argument. That is precisely the beauty and the problem of mystical expression. We know the truth of it when we experience it - but not because we have penetrated the argument.

Let us follow up on that aforementioned simple mind-system to work within. The entire objective world or universe rises from mind. We give name and form to objects, concretizing them when actually they are in constant flux. We make contact with what we have arbitrarily determined is a knowable object. Mostly we continue to think of it in a dualistic fashion and record those fluctuating elements that are so intriguing to the discriminating mind. This goes on and on from beginningless time through all the forevers to come, retained in that storehouse called the Universal Mind.

But the human mind has a second way of knowing. Not only does it know, or thinks it knows, the objects and predicate subjects it can also “know” that very Mind wherein those things are kept. Sadly, perversely, gratefully, this way of knowing does not communicate well with the first. For example, words fall into the domain of the discriminating mind and while they are not worthless when it comes to their use with this second way of knowing, they nearly are. Yet an essay without words is not much of an essay and most of you are too far away to see this flower I’m holding.

The Suchness, Noble Wisdom, is the foundation essence of all things. It is the nature of all things. In its pure essence it is the Dharmakaya. It is quiescent and without solidity. It is a totality and cannot be split apart to be referred to as existing in any state of being. With our discriminating mind we can apprehend fluctuations and spend lifetimes discussing them with our intellectual mind. But we can sense its deepest essence when we attain the egoless tranquility of true meditation. By tranquility we mean Oneness, the highest Samadhi in the realm of Noble Wisdom. Only by “turning- about in our deepest seat of consciousness” can we attain this tranquility.

How can we talk about how this happens? Well, in one primary sense we can’t. Words move strangely here. There are no intervening links such as words or other symbols that bridge this gap. This Intuitive Mind “knows” but knows in a vastly different way than our Discriminating Mind knows. What it senses seems “real” and not conditioned or predicated upon. This is where the transmission of the Dharma by "mind only" occurs. It is very difficult for the conscious Discriminating Mind to conceptualize what is known by the Intuitive; and although it can attempt to describe it, it fails to transmit it in the “real” sense of the word.

Before the Intuitive Mind experiences that “turning about,” the Discriminating Mind usually leads us in one of two directions. We end up thinking of origins or creators or else we think destructively and nihilistically about existence and nonexistence. After it experiences this “turning about,” the Discriminating Mind struggles to communicate these new realizations and usually succeeds in confusing itself and us as it tries to categorize, describe or otherwise divide Oneness.

In that Oneness is the end of suffering. No one dies since it cannot even be said that anyone really exists. But in that Oneness is a wonderful pristine peace.

We have our world system and we have our way of interacting with it. What we need to know is how to perform this “turning about at the deepest seat of consciousness”.

The Buddha did lay out a little plan, the Eightfold Path, which would bring us to this end of suffering. This end is no less than the realization of Suchness in our Intuitive Mind. The Path is not a Buddha ladder of higher and higher rungs. It is not called the Eight Step Program. It is an eight fold path: right views and intentions, speech and actions, committed effort, livelihood, mindfulness, and concentration/meditation. Work must be done in all of these areas and we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking we have “arrived” at any of them. The work goes on and on. But since the evening is passing and my imaginary friend’s ears are drooping (more like a dog’s than a rabbit’s) let's focus on meditation with a dash of samadhi thrown in to enliven the night.

Hui-Neng is somewhat controversial when it comes to the practice of meditation. Certain people have even suggested that Hui-Neng was talking about his particular time and culture. They imply that Chinese Ch’an Masters of his century did not have to meditate but American Ch’an Masters of ours certainly do. The problem is one step deeper than that. Consider this from the Lankavatara:

Thereon his mind will unfold by perceiving, thinking, meditating, and, abiding in the practice of concentration until he attains the "turning about" at the source of habit-energy. Free from the domination of words you will be able to establish yourselves where there will be a "turning about" in the deepest seat of consciousness by means of which you will attain self-realization of Noble Wisdom and be able to enter into all the Buddha-lands.

Even as we walk along the Eightfold Path we are sometimes reminded of just how problematic this simple formula can become. Meditation - perhaps, because it is listed at the end of the Path, cause some of us to think of meditation as the culmination of the Path. In fact, it is an inclusive part of the path not a culmination of it.

Meditation is not the popular and easy "just sitting still." Hui-Neng criticized this kind of practice which too often degenerated into time spent day-dreaming. Meditation is stilling the fluctuations in the Discriminating Mind with a definite energetic focusing of that mind.

While meditation can be ‘work,’ samadhi is not. As a matter of fact we are warned by the best of sages that samadhi can be a wondrous danger. Samadhi can be so blissful that we can be seduced into thinking that it is the goal. It is not. The goal remains the realization of Suchness. In this realization we lose nothing. In one sense we gain everything, in another sense we neither gain nor lose; and finally, we are beyond gain or loss and merely, incomprehensibly are.

Mediation is not a blanking or zoning-out condition. It is a quiet and focused but active, energetic stilling. The Seventh World of Ch’an Buddhism (which can be freely downloaded from our website) lists many techniques that we can use to attain the state of meditation. All the techniques have one intention – to free us from the domination of the Discriminating Mind by providing access to the Intuitive Mind - an access achieved by detachment and the “turning about.”

For now, this evening, let’s concentrate on Right Meditation in order to eventuate the “turning-about”. We must withdraw. We must. Their can be no more savoring the world. The salt must lose its saltiness. The 7th World, again, speaks dramatically to this point with its references to the swamp. When Ming Zhen speaks of this she speaks of it not as a choice we make but as a condition in which we find ourselves. The example used by Buddhists is the back-story of Gotama Siddhartha who having lived a princely protected life is suddenly confronted with the reality of old age, sickness and death and is brought to such despair that he “withdraws” and begins his journey. Our individual stories may not have all the dramatic flair as his but our swamps contain as much despair and suffering. Happiness is not the point from which we start our search. It is the reason it has been said we should be grateful for our suffering because it is only from there that we will find what we seek.

This is all prologue, but necessary prologue. As we look back we find our initial communal contact stems from this need to seek refuge from the suffering; so all that follows here presupposes the back-story of pain and suffering. We have reached a desperate point in our lives. We are reading this because we have entered one of the refuges, of the Sangha, the community and now seek the refuge of the Dharma by practicing Right Meditation.

We know that our suffering comes from a misplaced belief in our Discriminating Mind system and must delve deep to overturn these processes. We must approach our practice with determination that does not border on desperation but actually is desperation. We must not still our minds but the fluctuations in our minds. We must create space for ourselves to emerge, as big a space as possible (hey it’s a Big Self we seek). The Universe is yours, bring it with you wherever you are.

In the beginning it’s good to become reacquainted with the world outside your windows. I’m not much of a beach or ocean guy but I do love the mountains and streams, mainly because of the trees. I once read that the Buddha suggested to the monks around to find a nice tree with a big root system and I had to laugh. Just sitting under the protection of an oak with eyes half shut and mind fully open will do wonders in the beginning. When the first bird flutters down a few feet away and that first squirrel looks you over and decides you’re not the nut it was looking for, the pain will start to subside. Breathe in, breathe out, listen…to everything… naming nothing. Take your time, calm your self, there is a lot of history that must evaporate, one particle at a time. Don’t rush anything. Everyday bring this sacred space with you. Bring it inside your windows. Bring your tree root inside perhaps with a sculpture of Buddha, your zafu a fabricated pile of leaves upon which you sit. Bring in the scents with your incense or flowers. Let the sun caress your face. It does feel like love somehow, doesn’t it? He wants me. Something marvelous wants me. We cry a little when we feel “he’s not been hiding from us, we’ve been doing the hiding“.

Breathing in we turn in, breathing out and settling in, we see that nothing in this universe is the cause of our deepest internal suffering, save ourselves or what we have built up as ourselves. Seeking the end of suffering we see what must be ended and we gasp.

But then, after the dread of self-confrontation, we understand the shifting illusions that were our past. We understand that our precious personal ego-self has had no reality or permanent basis in the world system which rises from Mind. Finally, touched by grace, we sense the awe of what that really means.

We aren’t meant to shut it all out. We are meant to bring it all in. When we became men did we kill the child or did we save it? When we become Buddha what will happen to the man?

Humming Bird