Bring Me Your Mind – Part 2
In Part 1 I described this koan as asking us why Huike was enlightened by Bodhidharma’s comment, “There, I have pacified it for you”. I said this koan arouses negative feelings in us because those same words do not have any life-changing effect on us. I framed the koan in this way because I thought it was helpful to spell out how we find the motivation to struggle with this (or with any other) koan.
Now, however, I need to make clear that the question of motivation is secondary to the student’s primary task, which is to find a way of demonstrating to the teacher that they understand the deep meaning of the exchange between Bodhidharma and Huike. Again, such a demonstration must take the form of showing rather than saying what was understood by Huike.
In Part 1, I added that I would explain how showing rather than saying applied to this koan, despite the fact that Huike was awakened by something Bodhidharma said, not something he did.
I said there that sometimes the words Masters employ are called “turning words”. These are words that are more like an action than a transfer of information. They are like a rough shaking to awaken someone from deep sleep. The mark of a great Master is the ability to see when a student only needs a little bonk on the head to awaken. In Huike’s case, the bonk came when Bodhidharma affirmed that Huike would never find his mind, and so there was nothing to pacify, and all such efforts were a waste of energy. With that sudden understanding, Huike set down his heavy mental baggage, removing the burden he had carried for so long.
In Part 1, I also said I would provide some suggestions to help you find an acceptable response. One such clue comes from a scroll discovered at the start of the twentieth century in the Dunhuang caves on the Silk Road that carried trade from China to the West. These caves housed a complex of Buddhist temples from the fourth through the fourteenth centuries. These were a repository for Buddhist scrolls and art, some of which survived untouched in walled-off niches.
One of the texts recovered from the caves is called ATreatise on the Ceasing of Notions. It is made up of conversations between a Chan Master and a disciple. One of their exchanges was probably meant to help the student understand our present koan:
[The student] suddenly rose and asked, “What is called the heart? And how is the heart pacified?
The Master answered, “You should not assume a heart, then there is no need to pacify it. That is called pacifying the heart.”
If you truly understand this Master’s answer, you will see why Huike was liberated. If not, let me expand a little on that answer. First of all, the heart referred to here is the heart-mind represented by a single character as discussed in Part 1. By saying, “You should not assume a heart-mind”, the Master is saying that though we usually assume that the heart or mind is a “thing”, it is not. A “thing” is an object, something that people can “oversee”, “handle”, or manipulate. The heart-mind is not something that can be overseen and handled because it is unlimited. For instance, we cannot exhaustively list all of its elements.
This view of the heart-mind is supported by a story with which most experienced Zen students are familiar. It is the story of the first meeting between Hui Neng and Nanyue, a student who traveled a long way to study under him. Hui Neng is credited with completing the establishment of Zen in China five generations after Bodhidharma.
As the story goes, Hui Neng saw Nanyue coming up the mountain to his temple. When the latter got close enough, Hui Neng called out to him, “What is it that comes thus?!” Without hesitating, Nanyue called back, “To call it 'a thing' is to miss the point!” Hui Neng immediately saw his promise and took him in.
Now, among other things, Nanyue was saying that a person is not a thing. If so, then what is a person? We conventionally identify a person as an individual heart-mind in a particular body. But what is a heart-mind? Can we truly say it is limited to a body separate from everything else, or might that one body extend to encompass the universe in every direction as Dogen Zenji proposed?
There is one thing we can say about the heart-mind: it is ceaseless activity. And what kind of activity is that? As discussed in Part 1, introspection through vipassana meditation reveals it to be a relentless roving of attention. The nature of the heart-mind is endless searching for something, ranging over everything helpful or harmful in the world. It will never stop, and when you realize it will never stop and that this is just the way we are, you realize that there is nothing for you to do but watch its acrobatics with a certain distance and, yes, amusement. At that point you realize that your restless heart-mind is not a threat to you. That is, it is not a threat to you if you are content to let it be, and as long as you don’t believe in it’s rambling, contradictory, commentary. As the Master in the Dunhuang text said, at that point there is no need to pacify it, and that state is called pacifying the heart.
So how should you demonstrate your understanding to the teacher? You must directly “point out” your heart-mind by showing this relentless searching, as if hoping to find something you believe you have lost. Have fun coming up with your own way of directly presenting this absurd heart-mind that causes us so much trouble.
“A Course on Koans” is the delusion-riddled work of Chris Kufu (“Wind in the Void”) Wilson, who began practicing Zen in 1967. He regards Taizan Maezumi, Robert Aitken, and David Weinstein as his root teachers. Each of them pecked at his shell until he “completed” the never-ending koan curriculum of the Harada-Yasutani lineage.
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