The Mind Road

December 25, 2015 § Leave a comment

A Bruegel Christmas

In his commentary on the koan “Mu” Mumon wrote, “For subtle realization of (Mu) it is of the utmost importance that you cut off the mind road. If you do not pass the barrier of the ancestors, if you do not cut off the mind road, then you are a ghost clinging to bushes and grasses.”

What is the mind road? It is acquired ideas and confused imagery. It is thoughts, strategies and superstitions that provide the false promise of security and happiness. It is the stories we tell ourselves that frame our worldview and creates a sense of self.

The mind road is littered with extraneous thoughts and miscellaneous imagery that obscure actual experience. During moments of mindfulness there is an awareness of outer surroundings. For example, when doing the dishes, the plate is felt in the hand and the ears hear a squeak when the plate is washed. Then, without realizing it, the attention is drawn back to the mind road. The plate fades to the periphery of awareness obscured by thought and imagery. It is as if a pair of virtual goggles has been placed over the eyes to replace the real world with a false one.

Mumon describes life on the mind road as that of a ghost clinging to the bushes and grasses to represent how we cling to our thoughts and mental imagery. It has also been described as a snake caught in a bamboo stalk that can neither move forward nor back, so it suffers. With such an apt description, one wonder’s why anyone would choose this road?

The answer to this question lies in the steadfast belief that the mind road is the only reality and treading it the only way to stay safe. Step off this road and all is lost. So suffering is seen as the cost of living.

Buddhism tells us that there is an alternative to the mind road. It tells us that we need not live in the weeds of the forest. By cutting off thought, a Way is revealed that ends suffering. To cut off thought, a great ball of doubt must be raised about the reality of the contents of mind. The deeper this doubt, the greater the attainment.

It is not easy to doubt the reality of thought. Thought defines who we are. Thought defines the world we live in. It keeps us safe and protects us by saying what we need do and not do. Even if the thought is that we are bad or unworthy such is the strength of our belief that we’d rather suffer than risk the emptiness of having no identity at all. Yet to obtain Freedom and Liberation thought, even the thought of a self, must be let go.

In the Zen Buddhist tradition the koan Mu is often the first given to liberate the student from the mind road. When the teacher asks the student, “Show me Mu!” any answer taken from the mind road is rejected. It is only when the student exhausts every avenue of thought that the answer appears.

If no qualified teacher is available, the seeker of the Way must press on alone until one is found. Every dearly held belief must be held up for examination. Every assumption challenged. In particular, the seeker must delve into the depths of what he or she fears most, for it is there that real gold is found. But without a qualified teacher it is also where the greatest danger lies.

One completely steps off the mind road when every image and thought is realized to be empty of substance or reality. Then, one is truly beyond ideas.


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