Not The Wind; Not The Flag Part 1
This koan consists of a brief exchange between a great Zen Master and two monks. I chose this koan because it explicitly mentions “mind” and helps us see how much more Zen includes in that word, when compared to our narrower Western concept of mind.
“The wind was flapping the temple flag. Two monks were arguing about it. One said the flag was moving; the other said the wind was moving. Arguing back and forth they could not agree on the truth. The Sixth Patriarch said, ‘It is neither the wind that is moving nor the flag that is moving. It is your mind that is moving’. The two monks were struck with awe” .
The Sixth Patriarch is none other than Huineng, who is credited with giving Chan (Zen) its distinctive Chinese character by finishing the splicing together of Chinese Daoism with the Indian Buddhism of Bodhidharma .
Let’s start by examining the two monks’ arguments. We might be tempted to reject both positions as one-sided by saying that both the wind and the flag are moving. Alternatively, we might choose to default to our notions of causation by saying that the wind is logically prior to the flag flapping because the flag would not flap without the wind.
In his commentary on this koan, the great twentieth-century Zen Master, Zenkei Shibayama, points out that even the monk who argues that the flag is moving has reason to do so . Wind is invisible unless we see its effects visualized by something that moves as a result. We customarily gauge the wind by seeing how much the outside foliage is moving. So we could say that from a subjective (i.e. human individual) point of view, the fact that things are being blown about is what is important at that moment.
Likewise, as to the wind having priority in an objective cause and effect relationship, we can reasonably object on subjective grounds that it is not really the question of causation that interests us; it is the question of what we should wear today. Besides, the wind is only what lawyers call the “proximate cause”, and begs the question of what causes the wind, which leads to a regress that we usually choose not to pursue 
This example should remind us that there are (at least) two perspectives from which to view any movement or action: one subjective, and the other objective.
It is also important to notice that, as used in our conventional speech, “subjective”, and “objective” map roughly onto the words “emotional” and “rational”, respectively. “Being subjective” connotes having an emotional, self-interested motive, while “being objective” connotes trying to assert a scientific or universal truth that eliminates emotional considerations .
For this reason, it would seem better to find a perspective that includes both subjective and objective perspectives without favoring one over the other. This is exactly what the Sixth Patriarch provides with his intervention. It is not just the wind moving, and it is not just the flag moving, it is your “mind” that is moving.
The “mind” that Huineng refers to has the virtue of including both emotional and rational perspectives without favoring either. We have said elsewhere that with this provision our minds are free to pragmatically use either perspective as called for in decision-making . (This view of mind also seems to match what we actually do!) .
By scooping up both the subjective/emotional aspect and the objective/rational aspect and lumping them together under the heading of “mind”, Huineng is saying that we can stop any analytic regress of our mental life at a point just one step above the objective/subjective fork of dualism [7 ].
This is because Huineng is using “mind” as an all-inclusive term that includes everything that we can ever experience. “Mind” even includes the “unknown unknowns” that we haven’t even conceived of yet, since in order to be experienced in the future, such as-yet-undiscovered concepts can only enter our experience through the mind.
Here, we must always remember that, for Zen, "mind" means the "heart-mind" or "body-mind" represented by a single Chinese character. Each pair of terms declares an identity. Thus, the Chinese word for mind represents both our emotional mind and our rational mind. As I have said previously, this accords with neuroscience and reminds us that "mind" is not a synonym for the brain or neocortex alone, but must include the entire nervous system throughout the body.
Described in this way, “mind” becomes synonymous with the universe as a container of all things that humans can ever experience about the place in which they live.
It is crucial at this point to notice that the mind thus described is, like the universe, conceived as a container uncontained by anything else. This notion is notoriously difficult for human beings to comprehend. It is first in Kant’s list of “antinomies”, i.e. questions that are undecidable by the human mind and mark the limits of human reason.
More to the point, the question whether the universe is finite or infinite in extent was one of the questions that philosophers asked of the Buddha that he answered by remaining silent. His silence was not an admission that he was baffled. Rather, it was a teaching that the human mind is capable of imprisoning itself, and that the path to wisdom and freedom was through seeing that asking that question is based on the delusion that our fundamental nature requires an answer. It does not.
I prefer to put this last point by saying that in our true nature, such questions simply “do not arise”. They do not arise because our true nature does not discriminate between subject and object and hence between inside and outside. Once we realize that we are everything we experience, all boundaries disappear. At that point, any questions based on boundaries and polarities have no fundamental basis .
From a Zen philosophical perspective, it is this antinomy of a container with nothing to contain it that conceals the shameful family secret of Western philosophy. Since both universe or mind are arguably our best candidates for an ultimate (or “complete”, or “final”, or “highest”, or “most general”, or “all-inclusive”) concept, this antinomy is an inherited genetic defect in every Western philosophical construct.
I believe that the Zen koan literature is one of the few collective human efforts to address this antinomy. Briefly stated, Zen does so by showing that the container metaphor (embedded even in set theory) is itself an anthropomorphic projection and delusion, or in Zen parlance, an “empty” trope that must “drop away” if we wish to enjoy true human freedom.
In the words of the Diamond Sutra that gave Huineng his initial insight into his true nature, true freedom requires us to “bring forth the mind that abides nowhere.” That is to say, there is no “final word” or ultimate concept on which to base a “God’s eye view of things”.
Succeeding blogs on this Not the Wind; Not the Flag koan will continue to fill out this distinctive Zen view of mind and universe.
 This text follows the translation used by Shibayama (see also Note 3). The use of the word “awe” here does not signify that the monks had an sudden insight into their true nature, or kensho. It does signify that the monks suddenly recognized that Huineng had said something profoundly true that they were incapable of grasping. For many Zen students, then and now, such an incident is the preconscious beginning of a vow to master the Buddha Way.
. For background on Huineng, see Bring Me Your Mind Part 2 and Original Face Part 2. The “sinification” of Indian Buddhism via Daoism began much earlier through the decisions of early translators to borrow Chinese Daoist terms in translating Sanskrit terms. Nevertheless, Huineng is rightly credited with finishing this process. His Platform Sutra remains a founding document of Zen and helps explain why he was the last Chan Patriarch.
 Once again, I can only recommend that you read Shibayama’s comments on this koan in his The Gateless Barrier – Zen Comments on the Mumonkan (Shambala).
 It is highly significant that we find it irrelevant to pursue causation backwards beyond a certain point. In everyday questions of right and wrong, it is usually sufficient to stop our regress at the most proximate cause of a dispute. As a result, we can’t claim to have complete knowledge of what we are discussing. For us, partial knowledge is effectively regarded as complete for a given context. This resembles the Second Law of Thermodynamics, in which we only measure the collective pressure of gases, while regarding the precise location of molecules within the container as “lost knowledge” deemed irrelevant to our purposes.
 This is the right time to remind readers that earlier posts pointed out that neuroscience has shown that separating the emotional from the rational may be impossible. See The Great Way Is Not Difficult Part 2 at Notes 1 and 2.
 See The Great Way Is Not Difficult Part 3 at Note 7.
 Because “Mind” thus defined includes both the subjective/emotional aspect and the objective/rational aspect it seems a more natural stopping point for human explanations than the infinite regress of the truth predicate required by Tarski’s infinite hierarchy of metalanguages.
 I have previously pointed out that we can reach the point of realizing that we are everything we can ever experience through either “meditation only” (Soto Zen), or meditation combined with koan training (Rinzai Zen). As I said then, either path will ultimately cause us to drop our ceaseless efforts to defend our egos when we realize that we embody the universe and that the universe in all its diversity is our birthright.
“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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