17 million words and counting!

Social network icons Connect with us on your favourite social network The FBA Podcast Stay Up-to-date via Email, and RSS feeds Stay up-to-date
download whole text as a pdf   Next   

Direct Pointing to the Mind of Man

You can also listen to this talk.

by Sangharakshita

Lecture 15: A Direct Pointing to the Mind (Of Man) - Edited Version Today we are dealing with the third line of our verse, `Direct pointing to the mind,' and hoping to find there an answer to the question with which we concluded last week's talk - the question of what, according to Zen, we are to depend on, if there is to be no dependence on words and letters. Like the two previous lines of the verse, the line with which we are now concerned appears, at first sight, to consist of a quite simple and straightforward statement, something that everybody can understand. But this is not so. Before its meaning can become clear to us there is, in fact, a certain amount of obscurity to be resolved. This obscurity is not due to any vagueness on the part of the unknown composer of the verse, much less still on the part of Zen itself, but is simply the result of a characteristically Chinese attempt to pack the maximum amount of meaning into the minimum number of words. The meaning of the line can be clarified by a consideration of three questions, all of which are interconnected.

What is meant by `mind'? Why does Zen insist on pointing to the mind rather than to anything else? What is the significance of direct pointing? First of all, the meaning of the word `mind'. In the original Chinese, this is hsin. When I was in Kalimpong the hermit friend about whom I told you in the first talk once gave me a detailed explanation of the nine principal meanings of the word in Chinese literature, including Buddhist literature. Fortunately, in the present context, we do not need to concern ourselves with all of these. Broadly speaking hsin corresponds to the Indian (Pali and Sanskrit) word chitta, which it usually translates. Chitta is mind in the widest and most general sense of the term, emotional and conative, as well as intellectual and rational. Some scholars, however, prefer to render chitta or hsin by `heart', others by `soul'. Suzuki, for instance, in some of his early works, such as his Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism and his translation of Ashvaghosha's Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana regularly translates chitta as `soul'. Both renderings are apt to be misleading. In this context chitta or hsin is not heart as opposed to brain, in the sense of intellect, but rather the totality of mental life and activity which includes them both. It is more like the psyche in the Jungian sense of the term. Similarly chitta or hsin is not `soul', because this term has, in English, connotations which are quite foreign to Buddhism. Today we are therefore sticking to `mind' as the best working equivalent of both the Chinese and the Indian term. In any case, at this stage of our enquiry it is unnecessary for us to pay much attention to subtle differences of psychological terminology, and the general English term `mind' will serve our purpose quite well.

Having warned us not to depend upon words and letters, that is to say on second-hand knowledge of Reality, Zen tells us, as it were, to depend on the mind. This answers the question with which we were left at the end of last week. Zen declares, in effect, depend on your own mind. That is to say, depend on yourself, for psychologically speaking the mind is the self. Don't look without, don't allow your attention to be distracted by the multiplicity of external phenomena. Look within. This idea is of course not peculiar to Zen. It runs through the whole of Buddhism. In the Dhammapada, for instance, the Buddha declares that self-conquest is the greatest of all victories, that the self is its own refuge, its own master, and that purity and impurity depend upon one's own self. Here attention is clearly directed to the subject of experience rather than to its objective content - to the feeling, knowing, willing mind rather than to the external universe. Similar in spirit are the maxim inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, `Know thyself,' and the Tao Teh Ching's saying, `He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.' In pointing to the mind, and suggesting that we depend on that rather than on anything else, Zen gives the well-known idea its own special emphasis.

This emphasis is by no means superfluous. Indeed it is necessary at all times. People who have reached a certain level of maturity, or who enjoy a certain amount of leisure, tend to become bored and dissatisfied.

They become bored and dissatisfied with their jobs, with their wives and families, with books and theatres, with radio and television, with work and with play, with the society to which they belong and the age into which they have been born, with laughter and with tears, with poetry, music, and art, with the face of nature and the form of man. Eventually they become bored and dissatisfied with themselves. In this state of boredom and dissatisfaction, of weariness and disgust, even, they start vaguely searching for something - they know not what. Giving it a name, they call it Truth, Reality. Others speak of it in terms of peace, happiness, ultimate satisfaction. Yet others make use of a specifically religious terminology. They speak in terms of God, salvation, Enlightenment, and so on. They even speak in terms of Zen. But however different the ways in which they speak of that for which they are searching, they all agree in searching for it outside themselves. Sometimes, of course, they find what they are looking for and establish a relation of dependence on it. They then think that they have succeeded in their quest, that boredom and dissatisfaction have been dispelled. But in reality they have failed. All that has happened is that they have fallen victim to a projection.

As a psychological phenomenon projection is quite familiar to us. In order to avoid having to recognize, and possibly come to terms with, something in ourselves, we unconsciously attribute it to other people.

This repressed and projected factor is usually something that we experience as unpleasant or bad, something of which we are ashamed or afraid. We may be, for example, cold, hard, and selfish, completely lacking in warmth and affection. So we criticize other people for being like this. We complain, sometimes with bitterness, that our friends and relations are unkind and unsympathetic, that they trample upon our feelings, that they do not love us. We may even attribute feelings of coldness and hostility to the universe as a whole. All that we are really doing is projecting on to other people, or on to the outside world, our own personal defects. This sort of psychological projection goes on the whole time. Though extreme cases are rare, an element of projection enters into almost all our negative assessments of other people. If we are watchful we can often catch ourselves out. Just as another experiment, in the course of the coming week try to discover what it is you most dislike in others, what you most often criticize and condemn them for.

A little elementary self-analysis may reveal that those very qualities are hidden in the depths of your own mind and that in criticizing others in this way you are, in fact, unconsciously criticizing yourself.

Not only bad qualities but good ones too can be projected. These are not things of which we are ashamed or afraid, but capacities existing at a very deep level which we have so far been unable to develop.

Sometimes we may be unaware of the possibility of developing them. We project, for example, the quality of love. Feeling the need for love, but being unable to develop it within ourselves, we try to find it outside and receive it from there. In other words we project. Good though a quality may be in itself, the projecting of it, however, is bad inasmuch as this projection stands in the way of full self-integration. In the case of love we cannot, in fact, truly receive it until we are able to give it, and we cannot give love until it has been developed.

It is possible to go even further than this. Projection is not only psychological but spiritual. All men are capable of developing their vague glimmerings of understanding and their intermittent impulses of kindness into the supreme wisdom and infinite compassion of perfect Buddhahood. All are capable of gaining Enlightenment. But we do not do this. Instead, we project our own potential Enlightenment as it were outside ourselves, on to another person, on to the figure of the Buddha for instance, and then proceed to establish a relationship with it, that is to say, to worship the Buddha, or at least to venerate him as the supremely wise and infinitely compassionate teacher. This does not mean that the Buddha was not Enlightened, or that the Buddha-ideal of our religious imagination is nothing but a projection, even a spiritual projection. It means that in the last resort we have to satisfy our need for Enlightenment by developing it within ourselves rather than by becoming parasitic on the Buddha's Enlightenment. Not that spiritual projection has no place at all in the religious life, or that faith and worship are all wrong. Spiritual projection represents a very important stage, and as such it has its legitimate place in the total scheme of spiritual development. But ultimately it is a hindrance.

Zen, which adopts the absolute standpoint, therefore points to the mind. It calls for a complete withdrawal of all projections, positive and negative, psychological and spiritual. It says, `Depend on the mind, depend on yourself.' Within this context Enlightenment could be defined as the complete absence of projection.

So far we have considered Zen's pointing to the mind in a very general way. The time has come to be more specific. Zen points to the mind - but to which mind? Mind exists on many different levels, many different planes; it has various aspects, various functions. For instance there are the perceiving mind, the thinking and considering mind, and Absolute ...

download whole text as a pdf   Next