Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Deluded Mind

In the commentary on The Diamond Sutra, Hui-neng says, “A bodhisattva doesn’t practice charity for his own happiness but to break through miserliness within and to benefit other beings without. But the Tathagata says that the perceptions of self and other are ultimately subject to destruction and not truly real. Hence, all beings are fictions. If one can get free of the deluded mind, there are no beings to save.” 

I’ve read and puzzled over that statement for a long time and then I decided to just pay attention to that last part, “If one can get free of the deluded mind, there are no beings to save.” The question is what’s the difference between a mind that is deluded and one that isn’t? Apparently a deluded mind imagines something that doesn’t exist, like seeing heat waves on the highway and concluding rippling water. In this case The Buddha is saying that we likewise imagine entities called self and other which we mistake as being real. In other words what we take to be real is actually fictitious.

The teaching of “no self” is deeply imbedded into Buddhism. It’s a fundamental tenet. In our deluded state of mind we imagine a separate and independent being that is the same thing as a body. It looks real and it looks separate from every other body. How can it not be real and mutually discrete? Yet The Buddha says this perception is not real. It only looks that way and this conclusion is apparently emanating from a deluded mind.

How can this be understood? To answer that puzzler we have to take a step backward and consider how The Buddha understood the difference between what’s real and what isn’t. The what isn’t part is that things don’t exist independently. Instead everything is arising dependently, based on something else. The extended thought is that everything is thus empty, meaning that a self is not an isolated matter. By itself it is empty (non-existent). Only when joined with something else does it exist.

It is somewhat easier to grasp this distinction with a simple example. Up and down are obviously discriminately different yet they don’t exist independently. These two define each other. Neither up nor down could exist independently yet both exist in relationship to each other. That is essentially the Middle Way: Not up. Not down. Neither not, not up. Neither not, not down. Both are true together. Neither are true apart. That relationship is known as dependent origination and the implications of that principle are far-reaching. We, of course, embrace independence (which is foundational to our nation) and fail to see the connection.

How then does this understanding inform this matter of self and other? If we apply this criterion to a person, the question is what is the connective tissue? If I’m not independent what is the other side of me? Or of you? Obviously we have a bodily form, which we are looking at and that part certainly looks real and independent. Yet the Buddha said no. It is neither real nor independent. By itself a body is no more real than up apart from down.

To answer this question we need to switch over to another Sutra—The Heart of Perfect Wisdom Sutra, which says that form=emptiness. We know what our own form is. It’s our body. But this sutra says that this bodily form is empty (e.g., not real, not independent), instead it is mutually dependent with this thing called emptiness. Neither of these is real by itself and both are real together. So how can we define and understand the empty part? The truth is you can’t define or conceptually understand emptiness. It can only be experienced because emptiness is your primordial mind, which can’t define itself.

The father of Zen (Bodhidharma) said this, “To say that the real Dharmakāya of the Buddha resembles the Void is another way of saying that the Dharmakāya is the Void and that the Void is the Dharmakāya ... they are one and the same thing.... When all forms are abandoned, there is The Buddha ... the void is not really void, but the realm of the real Dharma. This spiritually enlightening nature is without beginning ... this great Nirvanic nature is Mind; Mind is The Buddha, and The Buddha is the Dharma.”

The other side of us all is this spiritually enlightened mind. It can’t be seen or understood by our thinking mind, but without that we (the bodily part of us) couldn’t exist. Without that part, we would be nothing more than a fiction. This mind is what produces, not only our bodies but everything else. This mind is spiritually integrated with everything.
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