Welcome to my blog---an eyes-open, no-holds-barred exploration of Western and Eastern spirituality, mindfulness, philosophy and literature. A member of the Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Association, I lectured at the NSW Institute of Psychiatry to mental health workers for 14 years and also lectured for 16 years at the University of Technology, Sydney. My interests include the psychology of religion, transformative ritual, mythology and addiction recovery.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
THE MINDFUL MIND OF NO-MIND
Ring bells! Blow trumpets! This is my 100th blog post, and it gives me no end of pleasure to know, from my daily blog statistics, that hundreds of people around the world read my many blog posts each day. To you all, thank you, and bless you.
One of the greatest books ever written on the subject of Buddhism and, in particular, Zen is The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind written by the late Zen master Dr D T Suzuki (pictured left). I first read this book way back in 1973 when I was in my first year of Arts/Law at the University of Sydney. I have re-read the book many times since. It is not an easy book to understand. Indeed, it is a most difficult book to understand, even for those who know something about its subject-matter. (I'll come back to the interesting concept of 'no-mind' later in this blog.)
For this, my 100th, post, I thought I’d share with you some ideas and concepts which I have found, in my mindfulness practice, to be of assistance to me. I have, in many previous blogs, referred to these ideas and concepts, but it may be helpful to amplify them and try to bring them all together in this present blog.
Now, what are the characteristics of a ‘mindful mind’? In other words, what are the ‘conditions’ for a mind being ‘mindful’? What are the ‘things’ which permit appreciation, apprehension or recognition of a mind being ‘mindful’? (Note: These ‘things’ do not constitute ‘mindfulness’ per se. They are not the ‘conditions’ or ‘constituents’ of the state of being and 'living meditation' known as mindfulness.)
First, bare attention. Why ‘bare’? Well, we mean just enough attention to ‘wake up’ to the present moment, to ‘stay awake’ (and 'here and now'), and to observe what is taking place ... enough attention to be able to 'discern' without discriminating or judging. After all, there is a world of difference between being aware of a thought and thinking and analyzing that thought.
Bare attention is a mode of perception which, with passive detachment, perceives each moment exactly as it is as opposed to through some filter of one’s thoughts, ideas and feelings. (There is a saying in Zen [which, relevantly, means ‘exacting meditation’, by human effort, so as to reach beyond thought, indeed beyond verbal expression], 'Do not search for truth. Just stop having opinions.' Love it!)
Bare attention is a way of looking at experience, which adds nothing to, and takes nothing away, from the raw experience itself. There is no attempt to change things in any way. You interfere with nothing. Bare attention involves no comment, attitude, judgment or deliberation but simply sees and ‘notes’ what is ... without any attachment or identification (eg ‘There is anger in this body’ as opposed to ‘I am angry, and ‘There is thinking taking place’ as opposed to ‘I am thinking’). You are not your thoughts. Indeed, you are not even ‘the thinker’. In the words of Krishnamurti, attention 'frees the mind from habit.' He also said, 'Surely attention has no motive, no object, no toy, no struggle, no verbalization. This is true attention, is it not? Where there is attention, reality is.'
Second, choiceless awareness. Awareness is something you 'bring', effortlessly, and continuously, to each moment of the day. Awareness is also something 'in' which you 'live', in the sense of living in awareness of the present moment. We are talking about an awareness of all that the present moment 'contains' (thoughts, perceptions, assumptions, tendencies, memories, feelings, bodily sensations, sounds, etc).
Now, one is ‘choicelessly’ aware when one is aware of whatever is ... when one objectively sees things-as-they-are ... things both inner and outer ... and without becoming attached to anything. Just as importantly, there is no choosing to be aware of one thing but not another.
In other words, there is no discriminating (that is, no decisions, no choices, no exercise of the will) ... and there are no demands ... not even preferences. One is simply ‘aware’ of whatever presents itself from one moment to the next as one’s experience ... that is, one simply looks, watches and observes ... without identifying oneself too closely with any elements (as per the above) of the experience ... and without judging anything that arises as 'good' or 'bad'. Thus, there is no 'I like this,' or 'I don't like that,' sort of thing.
That's right - there should be no analysis, comment, judgment, evaluation or condemnation ... and no 'abiding of thought' anywhere on anything ... just a constant, continuous, pliable, effortless and ever-present (and thus unconditioned) state of impartial, objective inquiry in which there is no 'conclusion'. Hence, there can be no room for 'beliefs' of any kind, for belief is just another form of conclusion.
This is what Krishnamurti means when he says there needs to be observation 'without the observer' ... for where there is an 'observer' there is a conditioned mind and a conditioned point of view ... which is the past ... and where there is the past, there can be no mindfulness. Of course, in an empirical sense there will always be an observer, in the form of the 'person' that each one of us is, but that is about the extent of it.
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, had much to say about meditation and mindfulness. One of his reported sayings is, "When the mind wanders, observe it as it is." What could be simpler than that?
There is a saying in Zenalong these lines: ‘Using the mind to look for reality is delusion. Not using the mind to look for reality is awareness. Freeing oneself from the mind is total liberation.’ Get the picture?
Third, curiosity. A mindful mind is a curious and energetic mind ... not one which is dull or bored, but one which is living, moving and vital. It is a mind which is patient, flexible, open, even open-ended, receptive, and ever interested in whatever is the experience of the moment. Yes, an inquisitive (but non-clinging, indeed detached) mind, by means of which we become conscious of what was previously unconscious.
However, we must be careful not to allow our curiosity to deflect us from our ‘staying on track’. We all know what can happen when we follow a thought through to its supposedly logical conclusion. The result? 'Mental movies' complete with the 'latest sound system'. Ongoing internal dialogue. The ‘answer’? Stay fixed and focused, and fully present, in the finitude of the present moment ... without being rigid. That is why it helps to focus one’s attention on one’s breath. It takes the focus of attention away from one’s thinking and directs it into the body. That leads on to ...
Fourth, purposefulness. Mindfulness is paying attention ... in the present moment ... on purpose.That means that we consciously, deliberately and vigilantly direct and focus (not forcibly, but in a ‘soft focus’, gentle and kind sort of way) our attention and awareness to whatever be our experience from one moment to the next. Of course, mindfulness takes meditation and applies it to one’s entire life. Hence, Zen says, when you’re eating, just eat; when you’re walking, just walk; when you’re sitting, just sit, and so forth.
Fifth, spontaneity. A mindful mind is one which responds effortlessly, receptively and spontaneously ... without discrimination ... whilst resisting the temptation to repond unthinkingly.
Sixth, detachment. We 'feel' as if we were watching ourselves from the 'inside', so to speak. In other words, we are aware of what is happening from one moment to the next ... without 'feeling' involved in what is happening.
Now, let's look at the doctrine or concept of ‘no-mind’ (Jpn mushin).
A mindful mind is amind of no-mind (Jpn mushin no shin). Yes, pure Zen, but it does make sense in a Zen sort of way. The doctrine or concept of ‘no-mind’ means no deliberate mind of one’s own. It does not mean the absence of mind, or absentmindedness, but rather a mind which is non-discriminating, uncoloured, fluid, unbound and free from deluded thought ... indeed, a mind where there is no conditioned thinking, desiring or controlling ... a spontaneous and detached state of mindcharacterised by inward silence and no knowing awareness ... a mind which effortlessly thinks what it thinks ... without there being any interference (judgment, analysis, etc) by some 'thinker' or 'ego' within the mind.
In order for a mind to be free from deluded thought it needs to be kept fully engaged in the present from moment to moment ... without there being any subjective evaluation or interpretation. Once we start evaluating and subjectively interpreting what is, we cease to experience life instantaneously and spontaneously. (Trying not to think, as opposed to forgetting to think altogether, is, of course, doomed to failure.) Alan Watts described 'no-mindedness' as a 'state of wholeness in which the mind functions freely and easily, without the sensation of a second mind or ego standing over it with a club'. Whatever comes up, moment by moment, is accepted without being embraced ... even non-acceptance.
So, a mind of no-mind is a mind which is unconscious of itself and empty of itself (yes, that supposed 'ego-self' which we mistakenly believe is us!) ... a mind which is ever imperturbable, that is, undisturbed by affects of any kind ... a mind which is effortlessly engaged in being here now ... a mind where there is no-effort and no-thought ... a mind which is present only to that which is happening now ... a mind which is, yes, ‘empty’ but whole (cf the ensō [circle] pictured right) ... a mind which is 'nowhere in particular' (Takuan Sōhō).
Wow! A state of ‘no-mind-ness’ or ‘no-mindedness’ ... characterised by effortlessness and a constant non-discriminating yet gentle-on-oneself 'unbinding' of the mind and letting go of all mental effluents and other ‘traffic’.
You are ‘no-minded’ when you let life live out its self-livingness in and as you ... and as all other things and persons. You are 'no-minded' when you let go of all self-identification, self-absorption, self-obsession and self-centredness. You are 'no-minded' when you let go of all attachments, presuppositions, assumptions and stories ... when you leave the mind empty of all greed, anger and delusion (ignorance).
Most of us engage in compulsive, and generally useless, thinking. We never stop thinking. Indeed, we find that our minds take up all of our attention! We identify ourselves with our minds, and so find ourselves trapped in time, ‘living’ (if you can call it that) exclusively through memory, evaluation, interpretation, judgment, analysis, and anticipation ... anything but actually living purposefully and consciously from one moment to the next. Our minds have become so conditioned that they are very good at denying, and seeking to escape from, the present moment ... which is the only moment we have. Remember the immortal words of Omar Khayyám? ‘Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.’
So, dear friends, let us cultivate an ‘empty’ mind ... a mind of no-mind ... empty, but also full and luminous! It is said in Zen, ‘Know that only the empty mind can see the Buddha.’ If you are not a Buddhist, you can easily rephrase that to, ‘Know that only the empty mind can see Reality ... know Truth ... and experience Life as it really is.’ Same thing.
(This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.)