Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Enhancing Wisdom Access

It is the single (nature of) mind, which encom...Image by Wonderlane via Flickr
Since Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration (steps 7 and 8) are so closely aligned we’ll consider them together. Both of these are steps of mental discipline that occur within meditation for the purpose of refining capacity and depth and thus enhancing wisdom access. And they serve as the capstones of the Nobel Eight-Fold Path to emphasize the importance to the emancipating process.

When we meditate two things are taking place: mindfulness and concentration (unfortunately so are drifting, sleeping, boredom, impatience etc.) Mindfulness means to be aware and concentration means to focus. Both awareness and focus are what our minds do (or not depending on discipline). When we are meditating we are engaging mind and manifesting interdependency as follows. Let’s first consider “thinking” which is a big part of what meditation is all about. We are being aware of thoughts and we are focusing our awareness single-pointedly.

In order for thoughts to exist, there must be a thinker (by definition). Thoughts are not independent of a thinker and a thinker is meaningless without thoughts. This is the classic case of dependent origination. So thoughts are going on while we are meditating and thus there is an active thinker. This process comes and goes. We think, we notice our thoughts (through mindfulness) and we choose to release (not become attached) these thoughts and return to a focus (on our breath —our “mind anchor”). It is a bit like training a dog on a leash. The dog attempts to bolt away, we give the dog a gentle tug on the leash and the dog learns to heel.

Now consider the following. Since thinking and thinkers arise and fall together it is clear that both thinkers and what they produce (thoughts) are unreal. Recall that the Buddhist definition of reality means “intrinsic substantiality—independence.” A thought is not independent from a thinker, nor is a thinker independent from thoughts, thus neither is “real.” Both thinkers and thoughts are therefore passing phantoms—mirages; clouds which obscure wisdom. The fact is that this process takes place whether or not when we are meditating. The benefit of meditation is that we devote time and energy to watching this taking place, learn to train our minds and thus become aware of the unreality of what occurs. As long as we stay attached to thoughts and empower them with the belief that they are real we continue to respond inappropriately and therefore create bad karma.

A curious thing is that thinking or not thinking, we are still there. We don’t come and go but our thoughts do. So the question becomes, “Who or what is it that remains?” And what do we call the state when our minds become still and we are not thinking? All Buddhist sutras refer to the state of non-thinking as samadhi—when the clouds of delusions cease we see with the light of wisdom. Likewise the sutras say that the “who” is our true nature—Buddha-Nature; our true self.

Consider the words of Ch’an Master Sheng-yen in his commentary on the Sutra of Complete Enlightenment. “We practice until the self is gone. When the self disappears, all obstructions will be gone too. There cannot be a self that is free from all obstructions. If there is a sense of self, then there are also obstructions. There cannot be obstructions without a self to create and experience them, because the self is an obstruction.”  This is just another way of speaking about dependent origination. Thinkers/thoughts; self/obstructions. Its the same thing. When we reach this samadhi state there is no self/thinker, no subject/object. Both disappear and fuse into a single, non-perceptible state. The two become one. So what about this non-thinking/non-obstructive state? Let’s share a passage spoken by the Buddha from the Vajra Samadhi Sutra.

“The Buddha replied, ‘Bodhisattva, ordinary meditation is in fact mental activity. Being neither distracted nor concentrated is the true non-thought-creating meditation. Since the nature of this meditation is non-thought-creating, therefore, abandon any meditation that fabricates sense-objects. The nature of non-thought-creating meditation is non-abiding [meaning, it doesn’t last]. Therefore, one should abandon any sign of abidance in meditation. If one knows that the true nature of meditation is free from both distraction and calmness, one immediately accesses the wisdom of non-creation of phenomenon. This wisdom of non-creation does not depend on abidance. Consequently, the mind will not be distracted. With this wisdom, this is how one attains the Nirvana—prajnaparamita.’”

“Think non-thinking,” wrote Master Dogen. “How do we think without thinking? Think from the depths of non-thinking.” The “depth of non-thinking” refers to mind-essence—the realm of “pure mind” where no thought defilements exist. This state of consciousness is hard to describe in words, but comes from practicing the correct attitudes of mind within a deep state of concentration, while maintaining the Zazen posture and rhythmic breathing. The goal of Zazen is to reach Hishiryo consciousness. “Hishiryo is the harmonizing of objective and subjective views, ultimate consciousness beyond time and space, the highest consciousness beyond thinking and non-thinking. To experience Hishiryo consciousness—That is Zen.”

“Without Thinking”

● No subject-object distinction: The subject has disappeared—this being the Zen interpretation of Buddhist anatta or no-mind. The ego/subject disappears since the subject is not real anyway. 
● Immediacy: Without a subject standing back (Or obscuring reality; No illusionary filters) the experience is one of immediacy within the dynamic field of consciousness.
● Fullness: Because the object is not filtered through an intentional act, it presents itself in its fullness. Things become what they are. They are thusness/Tathatā.
● Such immediacy and fullness are genjokoan, “pure presence of things as they are.”

A Zen monk asked Master Deshimaru, “In Zen, when you have satori, you can say, ‘I am God!’ Can that be interpreted as being like Saint Paul when he said, ‘It is not I who lives but Christ who lives in me?’”

Master Deshimaru answered: “Zazen is the same thing as God or Buddha. Dogen, the master of transmission, said, ‘Zazen itself is God.’ By that he meant that during zazen you are in harmony with the cosmos. In hishiryo consciousness there is no more anything. It is satori consciousness. The self has dropped away and dissolved. It is the consciousness of God. It is God. People have a personal God. We are not separate. There is no duality between God, Buddha, and ourselves. If I say, ‘I am God or Buddha,’ I am a little bit crazy. Mushotoku is important. If you think consciously about God or Buddha it’s not good. If I say you are God or Buddha while you are practicing zazen it’s not at all the same thing as if you say it about yourself. In Zen, you must have no goal. In hishiryo consciousness the personal self, however illuminated it may be, is still here. Meister Eckhart said, ‘If you empty yourself, God enters into you.’ In Zen, the ego enters into God. God enters into the ego. Both.”

It is a serious mistake in the understanding of Zen to refer merely to the “denial” or “cessation” of conceptual thinking. It is quite clear that in Ch’an Buddhism, no-mind, rather than referring to an absence of thought, refers to the condition of not being trapped in, or attached to thoughts, not adhering to a certain conceptual habit or position.

The error of interpretation made by many scholars (and by Zen practitioners as well) lies precisely in taking the term “no-thought” to refer to some kind of permanent, or ongoing absence of thought. While this assumption is routinely made, it is impossible to corroborate it in the Ch’an canon. If we study the seminal texts carefully, we do find a description of the experience of an instantaneous severing of thought that occurs in the course of a thoroughgoing pursuit of a Buddhist meditative exercise. But nowhere in the Platform Sutra, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Diamond Sutra, or any other major Ch’an text, is the term “no-mind” explained to be a permanent incapacitation of the thinking faculty or the permanent cessation of all conceptual activity.

In my next post I’ll summarize the steps we’ve taken along the Noble Eight-Fold Path and then return to the matter which launched this discussionThe five ways of seeing and how the Path relates to these “eyes.”
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