The Shadowy Self

June 28, 2015 § Leave a comment

man fishing 2088 a

Since we are provided with both a body and a mind, we grasp onto the physical forms we see: since we are provided with both a body and a mind, we cling to the sounds we hear. As a consequence, we make ourselves inseparable from all things, (and see ourselves, as if) we are some shadowy figure ‘lodging’ in a mirror…” (Zen Master Dōgen)

The ultimate aim of Buddhist practice is to awaken us from the false identification with this shadowy figure we call the self so we may realize our true nature. Yet our belief in the reality of this self is so strong that we often fail to hear the message that it is nothing but a shadow of mind. It is perhaps only when we are old that we come to late to realize that, as Ikkyu wrote,

The world before my eyes is wan and wasted, just like me.
 The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
 No spring breeze even at this late date,
 Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.

It’s difficult to give up our shadowy self, yet the path to liberation lies in doing just that.

Part of that difficulty lies in our steadfast belief that thought, including the thought of self, represents something real and solid. So we come to believe that if we think, there must be a permanent “I” behind the thinking. Yet Buddhists ask we go beyond this assumption to delve into our true nature, as does Bassui when he wrote,

What is this mind?
 Who is hearing these sounds?
 Do not mistake any state for
 Self-realization, but continue
 To ask yourself even more intensely,
 What is it that hears?

So Buddhism affirms that there is sound but does not conclude that there is a permanent self that hears. Buddhism does not solidify the self but only says that there is hearing, that there is seeing, tasting and living. Nothing extra is added to our experience. As Basho wrote,

I am one
 Who eats his breakfast,
 Gazing at the morning-glories

Still. To realize no self we need to cease our identification with the self. We need to stop identifying with the ego and stop believing in the reality of shadows. So when we sit in meditation we train ourselves to just observe. We train ourselves to see the unreality of thought so that we no longer run after it, or run from it. We train ourselves to just be with thought, and to just be.



June 21, 2015 § 2 Comments

round landscape

The undisciplined mind is continually distracted by even the most fleeting thought. A thought arises and we instantly move toward it, following it until another thought comes to distract us from our distractions. It is this movement that disturbs the calmness of mind, not thought. If left alone thought would rise and fall of itself. But when we add the energy of movement to it we agitate the waters of mind.

Chasing after the world
Brings chaos.
Allowing it all to come to me
Brings peace.

— Zen Gatha

When searching for the original self the mind is disturbed by the very act of seeking. This does not mean that we should stop thinking but that we should stop following thought in the vain hope that it will lead us to our original self. To seek the original self in thought is to confuse the wind that stirs the waves for the water itself.

The wind has settled, the blossoms have fallen;
Birds sing, the mountains grow dark –
This is the wondrous power of Buddhism.

— Ryokan

When things arise the sense of self also arises. When things come and go the impression is given that the self is permanent. When things linger, they seem permanent. So we come to believe that things are real and the self is real. Yet neither has fixed nature.

The wind traverses the vast sky,

clouds emerge from the mountains;

Feelings of enlightenment and things of the world

are of no concern at all.

Suchness Zen Master Keizan Jõkin

As you give up chasing after things, the clear, lucid nature of mind unfolds. As you surrender attachment to the self, the suchness of mind reveals itself. All this from the simple direction to not follow thought.

The Moving and the Non-Moving

June 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Absolutely Pure

In filmmaking, an immediate transition from one scene to another is called a cut. A gradual transition is called a dissolve with the start and end of the dissolve called a fade out and fades in, respectively. It is interesting to consider that these techniques may have evolved from the eye’s tendency to blink when we turn to look at something new. Blinking may be the natural way for us to fade out one scene and fade in another.

In Evans-Wentz’s “Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines” there is a section in the ‘Yoga of the Uncreated’ that refers to the analyzing of the ‘moving’ and the ‘non-moving’. When I first read this years ago I did not understand it. I thought it referred to some advanced practice I was yet unprepared for. I now think that the moving and non-moving is something that can be observed in meditation at any time.

Transitions similar to those in films are observable in meditation where one moment you’re attending to the breath and the next you’re lost in thought. If you carefully watch these transitions you’ll note they are quick cuts from one state to another. One second you are alert and concentrated, the next you’re in a mental world far removed from the present moment lost in thought and daydreams. We may consider these transitions as ‘moving’.

We are constantly moving from one thought to another, and one thing to another, throughout the day. In meditation we can observe this movement and thereby slow it down. Turning the awareness to that place where the movement starts does this.

The place where movement starts is nowhere other than your own mind where you are first distracted from your meditation. There you watch yourself transition from an alert meditative state to an alternate state that arises as you follow a thought. This transition is a quick one that draws and merges you into the thought so it might take a few tries to see it.

Becoming aware of this movement is the first step. Turning your awareness to it just as it starts is the next. Here is what Dayi Daoxin wrote about this in “The Fundamental Expedient Teachings For Calming The Mind That Attains Enlightenment.”

“…the moment when you realize this (movement) occurring then immediately concentrate on the fact that the place where it arises ultimately does not come into being. When this mind does begin to attach itself, it does not come from any place in the ten directions and when it goes there is no place at which it arrives.”

Through self-study you discover that the mind before it moves does not originate from any place. And when movement stops, it does not arrive anywhere. It is just ‘here’ all the time but you cannot see it directly. This is your mind before thought arises. It is non-moving mind and you are identical to it.

The moment you try to think of the non-moving it becomes the moving mind. Hence you can never conceptualize your non-moving mind but only obscure it with thought. Daman Hongren in his, “Treatise on the Supreme Vehicle,” puts it this way:

“Why is there no light? The light is never destroyed; it is just enshrouded by clouds and fog. The pure mind of all living beings is like this, merely covered up by the dark clouds of obsession with objects, arbitrary thoughts, psychological afflictions and views and opinions. If you can just keep the mind still so that errant thought does not arise, the reality of nirvana will naturally appear. This is how we know the inherent mind is originally pure.”

The originally pure mind is not lost. It is right here, right now. All we need do is stop following after thoughts and things, then it naturally appears.

Where Am I?

You are currently viewing the archives for June, 2015 at August Meditations.

%d bloggers like this: