On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

January 13, 2016

Doctrine of Mind

Huang po (d 850)

When the people of the world hear it said that the Buddhas transmit the Doctrine of the Mind, they suppose that there is something to be attained or realized apart from Mind, and thereupon they use Mind to seek the Dharma, not knowing that Mind and the object of their search are one. Mind cannot be used to seek something from Mind; for then, after the passing of millions of aeons, the day of success will still not have dawned. Such a method is not to be compared with suddenly eliminating conceptual thought, which is the fundamental Dharma.

Suppose a warrior, forgetting that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, were to seek for it elsewhere, he could travel the whole world without finding it. But if someone who knew what was wrong were to point it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time.

So, if you students of the Way are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognizing that it is the Buddha, you will consequently look for him elsewhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realization by such graduated practices.

It is only in contradistinction to greed, anger, and ignorance that abstinence, calm, and wisdom exist. Without illusion, how could there be Enlightenment? Therefore Bodhidharma said: “The Buddha enunciated all Dharmas in order to eliminate every vestige of conceptual thinking. If I refrained entirely from conceptual thought, what would be the use of all the Dharmas?”

Attach yourselves to nothing beyond the pure Buddha-Nature which is the original source of all things. Suppose you were to adorn the Void with countless jewels, how could they remain in position? The Buddha-Nature is like the Void; though you were to adorn it with inestimable merit and wisdom, how could they remain there? They would only service to conceal its original Nature and to render it invisible.

That which is called the Doctrine of Mental Origins (followed by certain other sects) postulates that all things are built up in Mind, and that they manifest themselves upon contact with external environment, ceasing to be manifest when that environment is not present. But it is wrong to conceive of an environment separate from the pure, unvarying nature of things.

The term unity refers to a homogeneous spiritual brilliance which separates into six harmoniously blended “elements.” The homogeneous spiritual brilliance is the One Mind, while the six harmoniously blended “elements” are the six sense organs. These six sense organs become severally united with objects that defile them—the eyes with form, the ear with sound, the nose with smell, the tongue with taste, the body with touch, and the thinking mind with entities.

Between these organs and their objects arise the six sensory perceptions, making eighteen sense realms in all. If you understand that these eighteen realms have no objective existence, you will bind the six harmoniously blended “elements” into a single spiritual brilliance—a single spiritual brilliance which is the One Mind.

All students of the Way know this, but cannot avoid forming concepts of “a single spiritual brilliance” and the “six harmoniously blended elements.” Accordingly, they are chained to entities and fail to achieve a tacit understanding of original Mind.

Question: What is the Way and how must it be followed?

Answer: What sort of thing do you suppose the Way to be, that you should wish to follow it?

Question: What instructions have the Masters everywhere given for dhyana practice and the study of the Dharma?

Answer: Words used to attract the dull of wit are not to be relied on.

Question: If those teachings were meant for the dull-witted, I have yet to hear what Dharma has been taught to those of really high capacity.

Answer: If they are really people of high capacity, where could they find people to follow? If they seek from within themselves, they will find nothing tangible; how much less can they find a dharma worthy of their attention elsewhere! Do not look to what is called the Dharma by preachers, for what sort of Dharma could that be?

Question: If this is so, should we not seek for anything at all?

Answer: By conceding this, you would save yourself a lot of mental effort.

Question: But in this way everything would be eliminated. There cannot just be nothing.

Answer: Who called it nothing? Who was this fellow? But you wanted to seek for something.

Question: Since there is no need to seek, why do you also say that not everything is eliminated?

Anwer: Not to seek is to rest tranquil. Who told you to eliminate anything? Look at the void in front of your eyes. How can you produce it or eliminate it?

Question: If I could reach this Dharma, would it be like the void?

Answer: Morning and night I have explained to you that the Void is both One and Manifold. I said this as a temporary expedient, but you are building up concepts from it .

Question: Do you mean that we should not form concepts as human beings normally do?

Answer: I have not prevented you; but concepts are related to the senses; and, when feeling takes place, wisdom is shut out.

Question: Then should we avoid any feeling in relation to the Dharma?

Answer: Where no feeling arises, who can say that you are right?

Question: Why do you speak as though I was mistaken in all the questions I have asked Your Reverence?

Answer: You are a person who doesn’t understand what is said to him. What is all this about being mistaken?

Question: Up to now, you have refuted everything which has been said. You have done nothing to point out the true Dharma to us.

Answer: In the true Dharma there is no confusion, but you produce confusion by such questions. What sort of “true Dharma” can you go seeking for?

Question: Since the confusion arises from my questions, what will Your Reverence’s answers be?/p>

Answer: Observe things as they are and don’t pay attention to other people. There are some people who are like mad dogs barking at everything that moves, even barking when the wind stirs among the grass and leaves./p>

— Huang po (d 850)

Ah, once again, the classic student and teacher dialogue we have all heard at one time or another. True teachers can be and should be, difficult to pin down an “answer” to questions that in reality wind up limiting us. What else, and how else could Huang Po answer?

Students so desperately want something to hold onto, a way to practice, an acknowledgment of “right understanding,” a breakthrough to end all breakthroughs. In reality, there is no end to practice; even with sudden enlightenments, it takes many years to integrate such insights into real life.

The koan is finding a way to continue, not in a mechanical way, “well I sit 30 minutes morning and evening” but in everyday life, my training goes out the window. Or I attend 3 sesshins a year and have practiced diligently for 30 years. These are not badges we accumulate like in scouting.

There is a thread underlying our life stream that permeates and enlivens it. That thread is our connection to the Way. How each one of us is connected is individual and up to us to weave into our daily lives. There is no written prescription for how this manifests in each person’s life.

Don’t get lost in the details. Immerse yourself with compassion and hold fast to your ideals to create an unshakeable foundation of practice. Come back to the present, and when distractions occur, which they invariably will, bring your attention back.

One with you,


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