The True Self – Ryoo Zan An 龍山庵
“The mind may be said to be of two kinds, pure and impure. Driven by the senses it becomes impure; but with the senses under control, the mind becomes pure.
It is the mind that frees us or enslaves. Driven by the senses we become bound; master of the senses we become free. Those who seek freedom must master their senses.
When the mind is detected from senses one reaches the summit of consciousness. Mastery of the mind leads to wisdom. Practice meditation. Stop all vain talk. The highest state is beyond reach of thought, for it lies beyond all duality.”
As human beings our joys and fears control the waves in our lives. We allow our senses to take control and our thoughts become unbalanced. We say one thing and yet in our minds think the opposite. Our hearts become disturbed and thus does our lives. We allow and are even taught to use our lesser (ego) mind as default, yet even the slightest success turns to suffering. Though our ego minds start to make justifications and excuses the sufferings still manifest and we continue to ignore them until they are fully ripened. At that time we have already become a slave to the senses and the ego mind (lesser mind).
Then how is it we break through and become free? As stated above we discipline our senses, thoughts and mind. In this way our true self (original mind) starts to take a foothold as a lotus plant takes root in muddy waters. The way sounds simple enough be the ego mind is a jealous lover. In Chan we have many techniques to focus the true mind and allow for the gradual release from the senses and ego mind. Do not confuse these techniques as tools that makes our thoughts that of nihilists, rather allowing us to enter into a higher union with the universe and all sentient beings.
Some may use concentrated breathing (counting breathes), image concentration, sound concentration (such as saying the Buddha’s name or a mantra). Each of these techniques are good and useful as long as the practitioner does not become attached to them. Once attachment takes place you fall into the trap of becoming enslaved to that technique. These practices are used for those who may not have the ability to concentrate on their own minds or for those who have been in the practice for many years when we are having one of those off sessions in life.
“Using a mantra and looking at your mind are means to polish the mirror of awareness;
Once the obscurations have been removed they have no more use and can be dropped.
All great and deep spiritual abilities are already complete within your mind and you can roam as you wish to the Pure Land or Heavenly Palace.”
Han Shan Dejing, (Looking at the Mind)
The practice of the mind in a life changing experience and so very beautiful as it opens unexplainable insights into our lives. How we are all interconnected and how our lives are only a piece of the greater dance of nature. In and of itself it seems to be an easy journey, but in the reality of it all is the most difficult path a person can take. Nonetheless it is a journey in which will bring us to the liberation of samsara and welcome us once again into the folds of enlightenment.
“A great householder named Shaunaka once came to Angiras and reverently asked: ‘What is that by knowing which all is known?’
He replied: ‘The illumined sages say knowledge is twofold, higher and lower. The study of the Vedas, Linguistics, Rituals, Astronomy, and all the arts can be called lower knowledge. The higher is that which leads to Self-realization.”
(The Mandaka Upanishad)
In my experience there are two ways to come to the entrance of Self-realization, neither of these ways are found in a university class or self help books, videos or seminars. Often time they are lonely paths to take and should be used in tandem as the practitioner becomes more adept. These are contemplation and meditation.
Contemplation should be utilized in a form that uses the Four Noble Truths and Five Precepts as a base line. Contemplating upon one’s own life (being truth to yourself) and on the lives around you. This is a first step, it is more of an observation of that which we engage and yet are not mindful of. The second step is that of contemplating the natural aspects around us, such as the changing seasons and the budding of flowers and their eventual death only to be reborn. The final step, as contemplation merges into meditation is when we contemplate upon the beginning, ‘who is this sitting on this log?’ This is the point in which we reach and it becomes clear that share in the one purity of the universe. As one of my teachers once said, “In this moment I know not where I end and the elk begin or where the elk end and I begin.” Contemplation is the beginning in planting the seeds on compassion and mindfulness. It is also the seed of true and pure meditation.
“Hard to reach is the supreme goal of life, hard to describe and hard to abide in. They alone attain Samadhi who have mastered their senses and are free from anger, free from self-will and from likes and dislikes, without selfish bonds to people and things.”
This is where are true freedom lies, through discipline of mind, thoughts and senses we can obtain this freedom. This is where the second technique comes into play, that of meditation. Like contemplation, meditation may take steps. These steps are tools as mentioned above that allow us to slow and bring under control our ego mind.
Each school and each teacher has their own techniques, thus I will not go into detail about. My purpose for this dialogue is to expound on the freedom of the self via the practice of meditation. Whether we are fully practicing Buddhists or practice Buddhist style meditation as a catalyst for our spiritual and personal growth, we should understand the reason and benefits of our true practice. Let me clarify what I mean by meditation. Meditation is not a mental visionary journey that we sometimes called guided meditation or where we sit on a zafu and take a nap, that is just nap. Meditation is that practice that takes us deep inside of our true minds, to reunite with all sentient beings and the cosmos.
“In the depths of meditation, sages saw within themselves the Lord of Love, who dwells in the heart of every creature. Deep in the hearts of all dwells, hidden behind the gunas of Law, energy, and inertia. He is One. He it is. Who rules over time, space, and causality.”
Whatever you may call it; enlightenment, Satori, the fusing of your original mind with that of the universal consciousness, Gaia or god. The peak goal is the same, then within it is the paradox that our original mind and the universal consciousness is and has always been fused. So why the practice and the struggle. The simple truth is that our experiences in this body and our variable society has created the false mind within us. This false mind ego feeds and grows stronger blocking out our original mind as the moon or earth’s shadow blocks out the sun and moon during eclipses. The ego mind continues to fill our heads with garbage as life cycles and eons continue, thus causing the cycles of birth and death, overall sufferings.
It is true that all of us must walk separate path to unlock and release our original minds, but that does not mean we have to walk it alone. This is why we have the Sangha to help support us in our journey and the masters and elders to guide us part of the way. We have the Dharma and live of the saints to act as sign post on our journey. Nonetheless in the end we, on our own, by ourselves must pass through the Gateless Gate. This is why the two steps of contemplation and meditation, if practiced in a manner of non-attachment, and with full compassion and mindfulness that we can achieve passage through this gate.
“People who don’t see their nature and imagine they can practice thoughtlessness all the same are liars and fools. They fall into endless space. They are like drunks. They cannot tell good from evil. If you intend to cultivate such a practice, you have to see your nature before you can put an end to rational thought. To attain enlightenment without seeing your nature is impossible.”
Bloodstream Sermon (The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma)
We need not mount the highest templed peak of Tibet or spend a lifetime in robes begging in Thailand or even spending our days chanting sutra in a valley temple in Japan. You don’t even have to take monks vows or shave your head. The practice starts now, in our own minds, in our own hearts and in our own lives. It all begins and ends in the mind, liberation has always been right here in this moment.
Contemplation and meditation does not always take place on a mat looking intently at a wall. In culmination with mindfulness every moment of one’s life will become a form of clear minded meditation. At this point the term lay (passive) dissolves. As priests or mere practitioners we should be as active as our monastic brothers and sister in our practice. We each have our own ways. As with me, I am not a monk rather a priest. I am married and work full-time in a labor intense field, nonetheless, it is this engagement of full suffering, paying the bills, providing food and sometimes dealing with rude people that had allowed me to focus more deeply on my practice. True this is not an easy path and it does taken discipline. Whether I am in my mountains in silence or on a water drill rig with they brain pounding noise, each moment is the perfect time to practice.
When starting on this path of liberation it is good to contemplate upon the Four Noble Truths as they appear in your own life. When insight appears and you are ready then seek out a true teacher. But, how do I know if this person or that person is a true teacher. This will be a effect from truthful insight that come from contemplation on the Four Noble Truth. In my experience if you truthfully and full heartedly want to find liberation from suffering and true teacher will appear. Go to him or her, approach them humbly and with humility, whether in person or another form of communication. You may be refused several times but never relent if this is your true path. Respect your master and seniors for they will be there to support and guide you. Also learn to learn from the greatest masters, your own failures and nature herself.
“More than those who hate you, more than all your enemies, an undisciplined mind does greater harm. More than your mother, more than your father, more than all your family, a well disciplined mind does greater good.”
(The Dhammapada Chapter 3: Mind)
Lastly remember the mind is the roots of all things in your life. If you allow the ego mind to take root it will lead to struggle, strife and suffering which in turn is the cause of rebirth and enslavement in the cycle of samsara. Should we water and tend to our original mind its root will take hold and grow stronger to rise us to liberation. Contemplation is the fertilizer and meditation is the water, compassion and mindfulness is the sun to allow this beautiful tree (ourselves) to expand and save all sentient being from samsara.
I will leave you with this last though on the subject of the mind root as portrayed by the Chan/Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma.
“The mind is the root from which all things grow. If you can understand the mind, everything else is included. It is like the root of a tree. All a tree’s fruits, flowers, branches and leaves depend on its roots. If you nourish its roots, a tree multiplies. If you cut its roots, it dies. Those who understand the mind reach enlightenment with minimal effort. Those who do not understand the mind practice in vain. Everything good and bad comes from your own mind. To find something beyond the mind is impossible.”
Breakthrough Sermon (The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma.
Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo
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