Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections on Bankei's 'Song of the Mind' Verses 29-32


“When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You haven't anything new

Enlightenment and delusion too
Never existed from the start
They're ideas that you picked up
Things your parents never taught

If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is "mine"
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other

These days I'm not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is that
I wake up in the morning feeling fine”

The Zen Master Bankei Yotaku (1622 – 1693) asserts that after we have studied Buddhism and come to its final objective, Nirvana, we find that it was here all the while; we just didn’t see it before. Also, what we think to be Nirvana is not Nirvana; the thinking mind can never conceptualize the Infinite. Moreover, in the enlightened mind there is no sense of “me” or “mine.” Everything is just as it is, just so. Thoughts arise, but they are undefiled by the sense of self, and all the ideas and biases that go along with experiencing these thoughts as a self are absent. Bankei points to a state of non-duality in which there is no suffering, simply being. Let’s look a little closer at each of the verses in this section of his poem ‘Song of the Mind.’

“When your study
Of Buddhism is through
You find
You haven't anything new”

We can spend lifetimes studying the Buddhist scriptures, whether it’s the Pali Canon, the Chinese Canon, the Tibetan Canon, or any combination of them. The teachings and practices that they contain are impossible for any one person to master, even over a thousand lifetimes. But they are not here to be memorized like maths formulae, but as inspiration in our endeavours to discover the cause of suffering and end it. From the viewpoint of spiritual awakening, what is the point of studying countless sutras and commentaries if they just end up as information in the brain to be regurgitated like some kind of human encyclopaedia?

Bankei suggests that all through our Buddhist studies and practices we won’t that we have anything new, which sounds preposterous. But this is from the conventional, worldly point of view, when we think that there must be a product born of our efforts, and in this case knowledge about Buddhist teachings would surely be accumulated, at the very least. Bankei is not denying this, nor is he belittling our efforts in studying the Buddha Dharma, but what he is directing us to realize is that all these efforts, if they culminate in enlightenment, will reveal the truth that’s been staring us in the face since before we were born. To discover and live from this Awakening requires support and training, however, for if we discover it without such foundations, our tower of enlightenment will surely collapse back into the dirt of ego.

“Enlightenment and delusion too
Never existed from the start
They're ideas that you picked up
Things your parents never taught”

Here, Bankei is really getting at the heart of the matter, and we must be quick to keep up with him. He says that, “Enlightenment and delusion too never existed from the start.” What?! Surely the whole point of Buddhist practice is to transcend delusion and realize enlightenment? And, yet, Master Bankei insists that neither delusion nor enlightenment exist or have ever done so. What on earth is he doing here? Well, again, taken from the conventional stance of the worldly mind, it would seem that Bankei is contradicting basic teachings of the Buddha found in all the major schools of Buddhism, including his own RInzai Zen Sect.

According to the Buddha, delusion goes hand-in-hand with suffering, and if we completely let go of the former, we let go of the latter as well. This is the essence of his teaching as presented to us suffering and deluded people. But, Bankei is not talking from the position of an unenlightened person who thinks about enlightenment rather than experiences it. From the viewpoint of the awakened mind, both enlightenment and delusion are indeed purely ideas that bear little resemblance to reality. As stated above, such teachings have a crucial role to play in leading us to the ending of suffering, but they are not Nirvana itself, merely concepts designed to help us awaken for ourselves.

“If you think the mind
That attains enlightenment
Is "mine"
Your thoughts will wrestle, one with the other”

There is mind, Mind, and no-mind. The mind that has the notion of “mine” attached to it is not enlightened, for it has not let go of the delusion of “me” and “mine.” If there is no one here, as the Buddha teaches us, then neither can there be the sense of possessing anything, whether it is physical or mental. These thoughts are thoughts, not “my” thoughts, and these words appearing on this page as they are typed are not “my” words, but simply words. The same applies to the body, of course.

Mind, with a capital ‘M’ is often used in English to distinguish between the unenlightened mind and the enlightened Mind. The enlightened Mind is not identified with a particular person, but is the universe living through a particular form. That is to say, the universe or totality of existence is expressing itself every time a poet writes, an artist paints, or a spouse nags their partner! The difference with an enlightened being is that they live in sync with the universe, not in competition with it. Put simply, mind is separate to the world whereas Mind is the world.

The trouble with words and concepts is that we human beings can be attached to them, and, we are liable to anthropomorphise them after they’ve been around a while. So, we conceive of the Infinite as having a body or a personality of its own, separate to other bodies or personalities. Or, it is seen as some kind of Divine Being, at least, which by definition is different to other beings. This is where no-mind comes in. No-mind is a way of describing the Infinite that makes it nigh on impossible to personalize it, and thereby help us to avoid attaching concepts to that which is beyond concepts, and cannot be experienced whilst we hold on to such ideas.

“These days I'm not bothering about
Getting enlightenment all the time
And the result is that
I wake up in the morning feeling fine”

Since Bankei was an enlightened Zen master, he no longer hankered after enlightenment; he was at rest. Whatever happened, he just took it in his stride knowing that this is the way it is: things happen. Things we consider good happen, things we consider bad happen, and things we consider neither good nor bad happen. Whilst we attach to the sense of being a separate being, we will suffer when things we want to happen don’t, and we will also suffer when things we don’t want to occur do. When enlightened, we will, as the Master states, “Wake up in the morning feeling fine.” This doesn’t sound so dramatic, does it? But, this is the sign of a life integrated into the enlightened state – and not the other way around, which is impossible. If we are enlightened like Bankei, life is just so, and this is fine. We can experience this “just so” quality right now, if we open to it. Why not try the following exercise and see what the outcome is. You might find that it’s fine.

Turn n the TV, radio, or Internet news, and calmly listen to it, taking in the ‘good’ news stories as well as the ‘bad.’ As you listen to the newscaster or reporter describing terrible events in the world, watch your reactions to them. Focus your attention on the negative responses that occur in your mind to these awful happenings. After the news programme has ended, turn off the TV, radio, or close the Internet site, and close your eyes. Think back to the ‘bad’ stuff that you’ve just heard, and take note of your feelings about each news item. Now, turn your attention to what all these thoughts and feelings are arising in. What does that look like or feel like? Do the same with your memories of what you see or heard during the news programme. What is it here that is aware of all these mental objects – is it a being, separate to them, is it an awareness in which they arise, or is it something else?

It’s the mind with a small ‘m’ that thinks that it is the self that thinks thoughts, says words, and does things. In truth, it is the Mind with a big ‘M’ that does it all. And yet, beyond even this sense of ‘the Big M’ is no-mind at all, in which things just happen. From the viewpoint of enlightenment, all the knowledge that we possess of the Buddha Dharma is useless if we cling to it as expressions of self-achievement. In truth, it is the universe that thinks through these body-minds that we so readily mistake as belonging to a self – a self that never, ever existed! All this occurs in the No-thing that is not only beyond things, but also beyond nothing! (Try to work that one out, and the only way you will is to use it as a koan.) Roll up all your desires into the desire for awakening, and then throw it away! Then, you will be left with no desires and no suffering; hankering after nothing whatsoever, you will be awake to the essence of our being, which was here all along.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

is the buddha gautama still existing after his death? that is one of the tughest questions newbies in buddhism ask. i once said he is immortal in nirvana but studying more i found out the idea is too childish. immortality is appliable only to christianity where permanence reign after death. in buddhism, gautama the buddha is no more because talking of the middle way, there is no such thing as existence and non existence. it is just going back to nature as it is. enligtenment is said to be a road to godhood but buddhism teaches this is not so. it is just returning to way things are as simple as it is. in the end where all realized the illusion of the world only nothing or no mind abides in.

kekyoOO said...

tough exercise man, the news thing. the answer is simple no man is actually observing it. only events phenomena and awareness doing it. things as it is. no thinker but only thoughts. after thoughts are done the void shows itself.

radzennical said...

is Mind and no mind contradicting in conventional thoughts yes but in ultimate truth the Mind is simply moment to moment awareness. when everything disappears into no-thing then it is no mind at all since everty phenomena is already done. emptiness is form and form is emptiness. it is nihilism without rejection. a nihilism that simply wants to go back in nature.

G said...

Anonymous, in the Pali Canon, the Buddha discusses this very issue, and advises us not to ponder too much over this question, as it is imponderable. You wrote, "it is just going back to nature as it is." This seems to some things up nicely, for the title 'Tathagata' means 'one-thus-come' or 'one-thus-gone,' and is the primary way the Buddha addressed himself during his life.

Kekyo00, "after thoughts are done the void shows itself" hits the hail on the head! Glad "the news thing" was 'tough' - we need to be tough to transcend these illusory selves!

Radzennical, "when everything disappears into no-thing then it is no mind at all" is yet another wise statement. How fortunate I am to have such splendid readers!

akuma_alpha3 said...

it is like the matrix thingy where the matrix world is real in its own sense but not uiltimately real just inside whatsoever computer there is. a buddhist may see this world is real but the learned ones know that this isnt that simple. why do they have equanimity? is it because they submitted to the harsh realities? is it they see reality where no one has seen the right way before them or they just let false relaity pass through them? i bet that equanimity is in the prime because everyone of them knew that it is nothing more than a bunch of pssing illusory phenomena without concrete reality. here dhammananda said a law, politics, religion, skills and order are nothing more than means to an end. after the end happened they have no footings at all just plain no-thing black awareness (post nirvana of all).

radzennical said...

to make this clear Mr.G, awareness is not meaning to say we are like pantheism in the indian sense. it is just realizing all phenomena dependent on each other. you are me im you in an all embracing manner. detached manner. just mindful that everything is only relatively real passing phenomena into emptiness. awareness after nirvana is always misconcepted since there is no sufferer or thinker found. best described after the buddha gained enligtenment and effective until he is done in the world. there is no way he is still floating somewhere because after his decades of awareness all his faculties detached and ended.

G said...

Interesting comments, Akuma.
"A bunch of passing illusory phenomena without concrete reality." Excellently put! "Plain no-thing black awareness." This seems satisfactory (as satisfactory as any words can be, that is), but why "black"?
Thanks for the comments, Akuma!

G said...

Excellent comments, Radzennical.
Yes, sometimes Buddhist teachings can be mistaken for pantheism, especially the Mahayana ones. D.T. Suzuki wrote about this, and illustrated as clearly as can be that there is no pantheism in Buddhism.
I like the image of the Buddha "floating somewhere" - maybe we need to go and rescue him!
And, you are right; how can enlightenment be described from the viewpoint of the illusory ego when it is the very absence of such an illusion?
Thanks for more fascinating comments!

Anonymous said...

if buddha wanted to be aware of everything in his enligtened perspective that shuld be experienced in the remainder of his last lives after dying without remaineder and rebirth there is no way he is still alive at some point he experiences as if life never came into being. buddhist awareness is not typical awareness of life but percieving nature really is he is one with what is happening right now via all phenomena. btw all buddhist teachings and bodhisattvas are just means to an end not to take them literally.

G said...

Anonymous, there's much to be said for much of what you write. Thanks for the input into 'Buddha Space.'

Anonymous said...

very explosive blog than any other buddhist blog there is. more direct to the point. in buddhism, thinking sprouts attachment. awareness gives us what things really are.

G said...

"thinking sprouts attachment. awareness gives us what things really are." - Absolutely!

Anonymous said...

we often think meditation is thinking what we had this day or what we have done but this is very ordinary contemplation. true contemplation accepts things as it really is. no mind means not no thinking but simply going with the flow with buddhistic discernment. what if G is the final boss in the game? he turns into no-thing and force all things into sunyata.

G said...

Thankfully, G is not "the final boss in the game." Nobody is!