September 12, 2015 § 2 Comments
A familiar tale originally told by the Buddha concerns a man confronted by a tiger in the forest. In flight from the beast he falls over a cliff but manages to grab a short tree root to stop his fall. There he hangs suspended, with the hungry tiger above and jagged rocks below. As he dangles, two mice – one white and one black – begin to gnaw on the root. The stage is set for his demise. Just then, he notices a wild strawberry growing along the flat cliff’s edge. Tasting it he says, “How sweet.”
With only 3,200 tigers left in the world today, it is safe to say that most of us will never encounter a tiger. Here in the wilds of British Columbia a fall from a cliff is more likely but this story is not about actual tigers or cliffs. It’s about the tigers and cliffs of mind.
Everyone encounters the tiger of fear in his or her lifetime. At some point everyone feels the jagged rocks of dejection. And everyone knows the gnawing feeling that life is short and time is running out. But aside from this symbolism there are aspects of the Buddha’s story that we should not overlook. Such as how the ordinary mind fixates on what is not real, rather than what is.
The ordinary mind has become so accustomed to thinking that it seldom takes time to touch base with the present moment. Much of this thinking is habitual and repetitive. A lot is based upon fear and desire. It is typically only when this thinking becomes painful that any notice is taken of it. Then the mind looks for a solution within its own thoughts that, long before this point has been reached, have been falsely identified as the self. The ordinary mind then asks, “What is wrong with me? Why do I feel bad? Why am I afraid?”
From my experience, the two most significant factors that block the ordinary mind from finding a way out of thinking and back to the present moment, are the false identification of self with thought and the false belief that thought is real.
One need only look within to see that the mind believes most of what it thinks to be real and true. What is not so easily seen is that when the mind believes these to be its true self, letting them go is felt to be the death of self. Thoughts are then seen as something to which one must cling to preserve one’s own life. That is why even the most painful of thoughts are so hard to release.
Mindfulness, koan study or just sitting, work to bring the mind to a point where the mind can release its tigers and enjoy the fruit of the present moment, as portrayed in the Buddha’s story. This is sometimes called going beyond duality where the mind no longer dwells in right or wrong, good or bad. It is also called no self. But place these esoteric descriptions aside and all that needs to be worked on is the simple realization that thoughts are neither real nor are they “you”. They can be let go and, in letting go, beyond duality and no self arise naturally.