Friday, September 20, 2019

Three Instructions

Recently, I read Tracing Back the Radiance, a book about Chinul, the 12th century Korean Son (Zen) master. He was deeply influenced by the early Chan masters in China, and frequently quotes a 7th century master, Yung-Chia, who is probably best known for a poem called Song of Enlightenment.

Here is one quotation that caught my attention:

The alertness of calmness is correct; the alertness of deluded thoughts is wrong.
The calmness of alertness is correct; the calmness of blankness is wrong.

Wow! So much in so few words. For most of us, they are probably all we need in the beginning. Read them slowly again and note what happens in you.

The alertness of calmness is correct; the alertness of deluded thoughts is wrong.
The calmness of alertness is correct; the calmness of blankness is wrong.

In other words, when your mind is calm or stable, you can cultivate the clarity aspect by emphasizing the being aware quality, or alertness. Here, the clarity is not based in thought or thinking. On the other hand, when you are thinking, any effort you make to be clear and awake is conceptually based. That is why the alertness of deluded thoughts is wrong.

In the same way, when your mind is clear and alert, you can cultivate calmness or stability. You can do this by just resting in whatever you are experiencing without trying to change it. When you do this, you are joining the clarity aspect of attention with stability. It's a different kind of resting, very different from sleep or ordinary relaxation. If your mind is not clear and alert, but just blank, even though there may be little thinking going on, resting in that blankness will only reinforce the dullness. That is why the calmness of blankness is wrong.

This practice brings stability and clarity together.

With these two instructions, you can cultivate stable, active attention. At some point, you will probably become curious about your experience. What is this mind? What rests? What moves, What knows?

Now a second pair of instructions come into play. These are from Clarifying the Natural State, by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal:

Look in the resting.
Rest in the looking.

They parallel Yung-Chia's pair, but go a step further. There are no answers to these questions, but the questions do take you deeper. 

Pick one of these questions. What rests?, for example. When you pose the question, there is usually an immediate shift into looking. (Don't try to analyze or figure out answers. That will just put you back in the conceptual mind. Just look.)

Strictly speaking, as I wrote in a previous newsletter, looking is a metaphor for a certain effort. You could try listening, too, but with this set of questions, looking words better for most people. 

Again, let yourself settle and then pose one of the questions. You will probably experience a shift. That shift is what is meant by looking. You are looking while resting. In doing so, you are not separating mind function (the active looking quality) and mind nature (the resting quality). In a sense, it is like the sun (mind essence) and sunlight (mind function).

You won't see anything, of course, because there is nothing to see. Mind is not a thing. There is nothing there. But, as you become familiar with looking, you can then practice resting in the looking. This means that once the question has elicited a shift in knowing, you don't push it. You just rest right there.

Through this practice, you bring together resting and seeing.

Finally, a third set of instructions comes from The Demon's Sermon on Martial Arts, one of the more insightful books I've read on how understanding manifests in life:

Rest without resting.
Move without moving.

The function of mind is movement. The nature of mind is rest.

To rest without resting means to rest in mind nature without trying to control the natural function of mind and body. For instance, something may happen in your life that is extremely upsetting. You rest in that upset so deeply that you are at peace, even though you feel hurt, anger and confusion raging and ricocheting in your mind and body. This is what it means to rest without resting. Do note that this is not the same as observing the anger and confusion. Observing is a form of detachment that reinforces a sense of "I".

As for "move without moving," this refers to training that has been instilled so deeply that the response just happens when the situation arises. We see this in the arts, particularly in music, and also in martial arts. When you are well trained in a discipline, you do whatever is appropriate and necessary, and your mind doesn't move at all. There is just the response, so you move without moving. In the context of spiritual practice, your training is so deep that thoughts and feelings arise and release themselves -- movement without movement.

Needless to say, you can only do this if you have previously trained in that particular discipline, be it playing a musical instrument, cooking a meal, meditation practice, responding to an attack (in the case of martial arts) or facilitating a group conversation. Such abilities don't simply appear just because you have experienced an awakening.

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