On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

February 22, 2000

Clear the Mind

Ta Hui (1089-1163)

Buddha said, if you want to know the realm of buddhahood, you must make your mind as clear as empty space and leave false thinking and all grasping far behind, causing your mind to be unobstructed where it may turn. The realm of buddhahood is not some external world where there is a formal “Buddha”: it’s the realm of the wisdom of a self-awakened sage.

Once you are determined that you want to know this realm, you do not need adornment, cultivation, or realization to attain it. You must clear away the stains of afflictions from alien sensations that have been on your mind since beginningless time, so that your mind is as broad and open as empty space. Detach from all the clinging of the discriminating intellect and your false, unreal, vain thoughts which are also like empty space. Then this wondrous effortless mind will be unimpeded wherever it goes.


An ancient worthy had a saying: “To look for the ox, one must seek out its tracks. To study the Path, seek out Mindlessness. Where the tracks are, so must the ox be.”

The path of Mindlessness is easy to seek out. So-called Mindlessness is not being inert and unknowing like earth, wood, tile, or stone. It means that the mind is settled and imperturbable when in contact with situations and meeting circumstances. Such a mind does not cling to anything, but is clear in all places, without hindrance or obstruction. Without being stained, yet without dwelling in the stainlessness this mind views the body and mind like a dream or illusion, yet without remaining in the perspective of dream’s and illusion’s empty nothingness. Only when one arrives at a realm like this can it be called true Mindlessness. No, it’s not lip service mindlessness…

“Just get to the root, don’t worry about the branches.”

Emptying this mind is the root. Once you get the root, the fundamental, then all kinds of language and knowledge and all your daily activities as you respond to people and adapt to circumstances, through so many upsets and downfalls, whether joyous or angry, good or bad, favorable or adverse – these are all trivial matters, the branches. If you can be spontaneously aware and knowing as you are going along with circumstances, then there is neither lack nor excess.

Tend the Ox

Since you’re studying this Path, then at all times, in your encounters with people and responses to circumstances, you must not let delusive thoughts continue. If you cannot see through them, then the moment a wrong thought comes up you should quickly concentrate your mental energy and pull yourself away. If you always follow those thoughts and let them continue without a break, not only does this obstruct the Path, but leads you far from wisdom.

In the old days Kuei Shan asked Lazy An, “What work do you do during the twenty-four hours of the day?”

Lazy An said, “I tend the ox.”

Kuei Shan said, “How do you tend it?”

Lazy An replied, “Whenever it gets into the grass, I pull it back by the nose.”

Kuei Shan said, “You’re really tending the ox!”

People who study the Path, in controlling wrong thoughts, should be like Lazy An tending his ox; then gradually a wholesome ripening will take place of itself.

Ta Hui (1089-1163)

excerpted from Swampland Flowers Translated by Christopher Cleary (1977)

Ta Hui was born in 1088 and “dropped his hair” at 17 when he became a monk. In this time many tales and sayings of the early classic figures in Chinese Ch’an were used as teaching material. However even such techniques and spiritual guides can become obstacles for students when they become objects of attachment. Watching his contemporaries getting caught up with the “public cases” or koans and memorizing the “right answers” caused Ta Hui to stop circulating his own teacher’s commentaries on them, The Blue Cliff Record.

Each day we want to Return to the essence of our practice. It's too easy to get caught in the form of a practice and lose your heart and beginner's mind. We are all responsible for doing something fundamental with what we have been given, otherwise it becomes a kind of burden and part of a collection of teachings or initiations which are useless without actualization. So what is the heart of practice? What is fundamental?

Each day we reconnect with our priorities here. In Ta Hui's first letter, having a mind clear and broad as empty space is an essential place to begin. It is something we live, not just visit on a meditation cushion. Something to explore, not understand.

Clarity is looking from the state before confusion arises, before opinions or compulsion arise. The blue sky is independent of the billowing clouds, and this prior, clear mind, this Blue Sky Mind, doesn't get confused – even when the clouds of confusion are present.

Clarity. We just Return over and over to this calm, unpressured Blue Sky Mind. We begin to see that it's always there even when apparently obscured by passing clouds.

Maverick Sutras

Then after we have Returned, we act from this Stillness. Only then can we have the freedom to discover actions unpressured, unconditioned and free, expressing our largest sense of being.

Gazing at the Blue Sky,
Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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