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Mind Reactive and Creative

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 31: Mind - Reactive and Creative

Urgyen Sangharakshita Friends, We all know that there are in the world a number of different religious systems, a number of different spiritual traditions. We have of course in the West, Christianity. We have Platonism and Neo-Platonism.

We have in the East, Hinduism, the great teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

We have Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism. In this way, in both ancient and modern times, in the East as well as in the West, so many different religious systems, so many different spiritual traditions, all of them in one way or another seeking and searching after truth, after the experience of ultimate Reality. All of these systems, all of these traditions, start, as it were, as spiritual inspirations, something very fluid, something without definite form, something very inspirational. But gradually, each one becomes, as it were, condensed; as it were crystallised into a system which can be expounded, part by part, step by step; expounded, in a word, systematically. And every one of these systematic expositions, whether it be of Buddhism, whether it be of Hinduism, whether it be of Christianity, has some starting point or other, some point which it catches hold of first, and out of which it, as it were, teases the whole of the rest of its system.

Now so far as Buddhism is concerned, the system or the tradition in its totality is known as the `Dharma', the truth or the doctrine or the teaching. And this Dharma, this truth or this doctrine or this teaching, when expounded systematically has a certain starting point, whether it be Zen or whether it be Shin, about which we heard this morning, or Theravada, or Tibetan Buddhism, it's the same starting-point always. The same, what the Hindu and Buddhist traditions call the Bindu, the same non- dimensional point from which everything issues, from which everything proceeds. And for Buddhism this starting point of the whole system, the whole teaching, the whole tradition, is none other than the mind, the mind itself. And this fact is very well illustrated by the first two verses of the Dhammapada, one of the best known, one of the best loved of all Buddhist sacred texts, the Pali Dhammapada of the Theravada Canon. In these two verses which open the Dhammapada, the Buddha is represented as saying, in very famous words, All mental states have mind as their forerunner, mind is their chief, and they are mind made.

If with an impure mind one speaks or acts, then suffering follows even as the wheel, the hoof of the ox who is drawing a cart.

Mind is the forerunner of all mental states. Mind is their chief and they are mind made.

If with a pure mind one speaks or acts, happiness follows him close like his never departing shadow.

So from purity, happiness. This reminds me or reminded me just as I was reading these verses about what we heard this morning. The Pure Land is the Happy Land, and the Happy Land is the Pure Land. If you see this world itself with a pure mind, this world is the Pure Land, and if you see it with a pure mind it is also the Happy Land or the Happy World, despite all the suffering that appears to be on its surface.

But we're not concerned with this at the moment. We're concerned with the fact that mind, as announced in the opening verses of the Dhammapada, is the starting point of the whole Buddhist teaching, mind itself.

So thus the Dhammapada, and another great Buddhist tradition, that of Zen we may say, is even more emphatic about mind being the starting point. There's a very famous verse on which a couple of years ago I gave a series of talks, a verse of four lines which summarises the message, the essence, of the whole of the Zen tradition, and this verse reads, describing the special characteristics of Zen: A special transmission outside the Scriptures.

No dependence on words and letters.

Direct pointing to the mind of man.

Seeing into one's own nature, realising Buddhahood.

So whether it's the Buddha speaking in the first two verses of the Dhammapada, or whether it's this unknown, this anonymous Zen master summarising the essence of Zen in his four-line verse, they all say the same thing. They all make the same point. That the starting-point of Buddhism itself, that from which we begin, that from which we commence, is not anything outside ourselves. It's not even anything which we call Buddhism. The starting point is within, the starting point is the mind itself. Buddhism begins there.

Lecture 31: Mind - Reactive and Creative Page 1 But then what do we mean by mind? In the Dhammapada verses which I quoted, in the original Pali the word which we translate as mind is mano. Etymologically the same word as our word mind. In the Chinese Zen stanza, in the original Chinese it is hsin, which corresponds to the Sanskrit and Pali chitta.

So whether it's mano or whether it's hsin or whether it's chitta, all these expressions which are rather popular, literary expressions rather than technical philosophical terms, all of these are quite adequately rendered by the English word `mind' in its common-or-garden sense, its popular significance. So no need to go into etymologies and so on.

Now the mind, to begin with, according to Buddhism, is twofold. There's on the one hand what is usually called the Absolute Mind, the One Mind, about which we spoke in our lecture on the `Depth Psychology of the Yogachara' the week before last, and then on the other hand, what is known as relative mind. Now Absolute Mind, mind in its nakedness as the Tibetan tradition calls it, our Transcendental Mind or the One Mind, is synonymous with reality itself. According to the great, as it were, idealist tradition of Buddhist thought, mind is absolute reality, absolute reality is mind. Not mind as we know it broken by the schism of subject and object but a pure non-dual awareness. A luminous void awareness, a blissful awareness, transcending the duality of subject and object. And it is the realisation of this One Mind, mind as absolute reality, this waking up beyond the dream of dualism, to the sole and simple reality of mind itself, so that one sees the whole universe in its heights and in its depths and on all sides, in all its modifications, in all its transformations, as One Mind: it's the awakening, the realisation of this great supreme truth, which constitutes Enlightenment. So this is Absolute Mind, the One Mind.

Then, the relative mind, that is to say the individual mind, the mind of each person, or if you like my mind and your mind. This is what we call relative mind. And it's with this, with this relative mind, rather than with absolute mind, that we're concerned this evening.

Now relative mind itself is of two kinds. Two great kinds, two great modes, of functioning; and these are what I have called, in the title of this talk, the reactive mind and the creative mind. Now I must make it clear that these are not traditional Buddhist terms. This afternoon in the course of the guided group discussion, the point was made that we have, as it were, to re-present, to re-phrase, Buddhism, and this is certainly necessary. So this is, I may say, an example, or at least an attempt, of such a rephrasing; because we don't find the expressions, we don't find these terms - reactive mind and creative mind - in traditional Buddhism. But it does seem to me that these two terms between them, taken together, do express very well, very accurately, and if I may say so very vividly, what the Buddha had in mind.

Now the whole distinction between mind reactive and mind creative is, as we shall see in some detail later on, of very great importance indeed, and it is the transition, we may say, the passing over from reactive mind to creative mind, which marks, which constitutes the beginning of the spiritual life. It is this, we may say, which is conversion, turning around, in the true sense of the term: this transition from having a reactive mind to having instead a creative mind.

Now what do these terms mean? We speak of reactive mind, of creative mind, but what do we mean thereby? What is a reactive mind? What is a creative mind? First of all we shouldn't, of course, think too literally in terms of two kinds of mind. It isn't as though we've got a reactive mind here and a creative mind there. There's only one mind on any level. But there are rather two ways in which the mind can function. So we may say the reactive mind is the mind itself, the relative mind, functioning in a reactive manner. And in the same way the creative mind is this same relative mind switched over, as it were, or switched on if you like, and become creative, functioning creatively.

Now first of all let us try to describe, let us try to characterise, the reactive mind. This is of course the mind with which we are very familiar; we carry it around with us all the time and we use it all the time, or at least most of the time. This is what we use. The reactive mind. Or we may even say that it's not so much that we use the reactive mind, it's rather the reactive mind which all the time is using us, which has us at its mercy. We are, as it were, most of the time, slaves of this reactive mind. In some people of course reactive mind, unfortunately, functions all the time. Of these people one may say, well, they're not really human. I call them just humanoid. [Laughter] Now what are the characteristics of this reactive mind, or this mind when it is functioning reactively? Well, to begin with, the worst thing that you can say about the reactive mind is that it is re-active. This condemns it or exposes it straight away. The reactive mind does not really act. The reactive mind only re-acts. In other ...

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