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A Monk Asked Mazu…

August 8, 2012

by Stephen Damon

A monk asked Mazu, “Why do you teach that Mind is Buddha?”
Mazu replied, “To stop a baby’s crying.”
The monk asked, “What is it like when the baby stops crying?”
Mazu answered, “No Mind,No Buddha.”

These two statements, which are taken up in cases 30 and 33 of the Mumonkan, are not contradictory as much as they are complimentary.  They are, in fact, two ways of describing the same reality, just as you can describe light as both a particle and a wave.  We experience seemingly contradictory facts in our day-to-day lives, but we need to find a way to see their fundamental interconnectedness, a way to reconcile them. When we do this, we get a deep sense that Mind is Buddha and  that there is neither Mind nor Buddha—at the same time.  When we have this experience, we begin to see that what seem like contradictory facts “out there” are just expressions of our conflicting emotional responses to the same basic reality. 

On another level these two statements refer to two stages of our meditation practice: samatha (calm abiding) and vipassana (insight).  According to the Dalai Lama, The nature of calm abiding is the one-pointed abiding on any object without distraction of a mind conjoined with a bliss of physical and mental pliancy. If it is supplemented with taking refuge, it is a Buddhist practice; and if it is supplemented with an aspiration to highest enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, it is a Mahayana practice.

Vipassana is a direct insight into how things really are.  In Theravadin texts it is described as the direct perception of the three marks of existence: Anicca, or impermanence; Dukkha or life is suffering or unease; and Anatta or nothing has an independent self. In Mahayana texts vipassana is the direct perception of Sunyata or emptiness.

According to classic Buddhist meditation practice, you have to calm the mind if you want to have insight. As long as the mind is unsettled, there can be no insight. First we have to calm the mind, and then we can actually see something that’s true about our lives. Some Buddhist mediation techniques, such as the Tibetan Mahamudra, say that each session should begin with samatha and proceed to insight.  Other teachings suggest that attaining calmness of mind takes a long time.

But in Soto Zen, we don’t talk about stages of meditation.  Our practice is not about doing a particular kind of practice, as it is just sitting or shikantaza, which is indistinguishable from enlightenment.  Or as Suzuki Roshi said: Sitting zazen is taking the posture of enlightenment.  Zazen, like everything else we do is not a preparation for anything else.

In the Platform Sutra, Hui Neng says: In this Dharma door of ours samadhi and prajna (insight)are considered to be the root. Great assembly, do not be confused. The words “samadhi” and “prajna” are different, but samadhi and prajna are one substance and are not two. Samadhi is the substance of prajna; prajna is the function of samadhi. Immediately at the time of prajna, samadhi is in prajna. Immediately at the time of samadhi, prajna is in samadhi. If one knows this meaning, then samadhi and prajna are equally learned. You various people who study the Way, do not say, ‘First samadhi, then comes prajna,’ or ‘First prajna, then comes samadhi,’ to separate them. Those with this view make the Dharma have the characteristic of duality.

We need to find a way not to become too focused on either point of view.   If we go too far in one direction we will lose our way.   When I studied the two cases from the Mumonkan, I saw that sometimes I would be attached to Mind itself is Buddha and other times I would be attached to No mind,No Buddha.   But, when I was able to keep both points of view in mind, without any pushing or pulling, I found that I was able to not only let go of my attachment to one statement over the other, but also to many other things.  Keeping both statements in balance I experienced a deep sense of presence and was able to let go…of nearly everything.  But I could only keep them in balance for moments at a time.

I saw that I invariably went back to one point of view over another.  These points of view would go back and forth, depending on my  latest thought, which was always limited.   I saw that my thought could not contain both points of view but something deeper in myself could.  I’m not sure what to call this “something,” except to say that it was an intuitive intelligence that was able to experience things directly without any discriminations.  This was a new kind of  “experience’ for me, which had no subject and no object, or maybe it is more accurate to say that the object and subject were interchangeable.  It gave me a new impression of myself and  I understood Suzuki Roshi’s statement:   “Zen is about experience, not philosophy.” 

If we pay careful attention to what is going on in ourselves, we will see that sometimes, “Mind itself is Buddha,” and at other times there is “No mind, No Buddha.”  And sometimes we will be able to inhabit the space-less space of “not yes, and not no.”   



From → Zen Buddhism

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