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Some thoughts on non-thinking

April 15, 2012

By Stephen Damon

One day Dogen said:

While I was reading the recorded sayings of an ancient master in a Chinese Monastery, a monk from Shu who was practicing the way said, “What’s the use of reading such a book?”

I said, “I want to study the deeds of ancient masters.”                                                                                                                                                                         He said, “What’s the use of that?”                                                                                                

Later, I thought about the meaning of what the monk said.  I realized that reading recorded sayings and koans, studying the deeds of ancient masters, and explaining them to the deluded are of no use for one’s own development or in helping others.

So, what must I do?  Where must I direct my attention?  First, I need to see that my mind is almost never directed on knowing myself as I am in this moment.  It is difficult for thought to remain on what is, because it is based on memory of what was, even when it visualizes the future. If you pay attention to how the mind sees the future you will see that it uses the images and feelings of the past. How strange! It is difficult for the mind to abandon belief in everything it knows, especially the trace of the preceding moment. 

To stay in front of the unknown, my mind must be profoundly silent and still.  This is a silence that is not obtained by suppressing or by sacrifice.  I do not make the silence.  It appears, when the mind sees that by itself alone, it cannot be in contact with something it cannot measure, something unknown inside myself.  Seeing this lack, the mind loosens its grasp…on everything, and becomes open and free, moment after moment.  Never reaching a conclusion, it constantly begins anew.  It stops trying to be an expert and returns to its source, Beginners Mind.

I need to be free enough to discard everything and to question without expecting an answer.  Zen is not about finding answers, but in deepening our questions. It is about finding a space in which to sustain questioning, being willing to remain present and upright in the middle of questioning. Not knowing, letting go of everything, and paying complete attention to what is in front of me is what Zen calls, think non-thinking  I have to stay in my not knowing mind, learning to see without judging, without interpreting.  To see is an extraordinary act which requires an attention that is unknown to me.  This unknown attention is my essential energy.  It appears when I am seeing, listening and questioning—never in knowing with my thinking mind—it appears when I turn my attention from the deeds of ancient masters to the unknown in front of me, just now.



From → Zen Buddhism

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