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Direct Pointing to the Mind of Man

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by Sangharakshita

... Mind. To which of these does Zen point? In a general way, of course, it points to them all, to mind as distinct from matter, as distinct from the external world. But specifically it points to Absolute Mind. It points to the Mind beyond the mind, to the Buddha-nature within, and tells us to rely upon that.

At this point our first question, `What is meant by mind?' starts overlapping the second, `Why does Zen insist on pointing to the mind rather than to anything else?' Mind is the point of contact with Reality.

Absolute Mind is Reality. In pointing to the mind, therefore, Zen points to Reality, points to Enlightenment, which is the experience of Reality, points to the Buddha-nature. This is why it points to the mind in preference to anything else.

We can now see more clearly the nature of the connection between Zen and meditation. We can understand why Zen is the Meditation School. Contrary to what is sometimes thought, meditation is not just a matter of concentration exercises successfully performed. Meditation may be defined as the persistent and methodical attempt to see Reality within. Ordinarily our attention is directed outwards, towards the world.

When we take up the practice of meditation, however, we learn to withdraw our attention from external objects, to disengage the senses from their respective stimuli, and to centre attention within. This attitude of withdrawal finds expression in the posture normally adopted for meditation, when we sit with legs folded beneath us and hands resting, one above the other, on top of the crossed ankles. The eyes are closed, representing the exclusion not only of visual stimuli, but of all sense impressions whatsoever. With practice it becomes possible to keep the mind centred within for longer and longer periods. This eventually results in a permanent shifting of the centre of attention from the external world to the mind itself, so that even when we are engaged in external activities a degree of inner recollection and awareness persists.

The next step we have to take is to make the mind progressively purer, clearer, and more luminous. That is to say, having turned from the external world to the mind, we now have to turn from the lower mind to the higher mind. In the general tradition which Zen shares with all other forms of Buddhism, this progress is represented by the four rupa-dhyanas, or states of meditative consciousness associated with the world of form, and the four arupa-dhyanas, or states of meditative consciousness associated with the formless world. These are usually regarded as together constituting one continuous series.

The first of the four states of meditative consciousness associated with the world of form consists of the five psychic factors of thought, both initial and sustained, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness. In the second of these states thought is eliminated, and in the third, rapture. In the fourth, bliss is replaced by equanimity.

One-pointedness is the only psychic factor which remains constant throughout. Indeed, it grows in intensity as the other factors are eliminated and it absorbs the energy invested in them.

The four states of meditative consciousness associated with the formless world are known as the Sphere of Infinite Space, the Sphere of Infinite Consciousness, the Sphere of No-thingness, and the Sphere of Neither Perception nor Non-perception. These names tell us very little about the real nature of these states, which represent still higher and more refined experiences of one-pointedness and unification.

Even when the ascent has been made from the lower to the higher mind, and the eight states of meditative consciousness have all been experienced in their fullness, the limits of meditation have not been reached.

The eight states are relative or mundane in character. They are not absolute, not transcendental. Reality has not yet been seen. Having turned from the lower to the higher mind we must finally turn, therefore, from relative mind to Absolute Mind. As relative mind and Absolute Mind are, from the standpoint of the relative mind, absolutely discontinuous, this transition can be brought about only by means of a kind of existential leap from the one to the other. There is no longer any question of a path with clearly marked steps and stages. The path that we have so far followed ends at the brink of an abyss, and from here we have no alternative but to take a leap in the dark. Taking the leap, we find ourselves in the midst of the Void. Darkness changes to light. Suddenly and mysteriously, relative mind is replaced by Absolute Mind.

This Absolute Mind is not subject as opposed to object, nor can it be itself the object of thought. Rather, it is that pure, brilliant, and transparent awareness within which the distinction of subject and object does not exist. The goal of meditation has now been reached. Reality has been `seen'. In pointing to the mind, Zen has pointed to Reality, to Enlightenment, to Buddhahood.

Having understood what is meant by mind, and why Zen insists on pointing to the mind rather than to anything else, we come now to our third and last question: What is the significance of direct pointing? This is not very difficult to see. Direct pointing means referring everything back to the mind itself - referring it, in the first place, to the thinking and perceiving mind rather than to the object of its thought and perception. It means throwing the disciple back again and again on his own personal problems and his own individual resources. It means refusing to go from Hampstead to Highgate via the whole universe. The latter is, of course, just the sort of detour that people love to make. Despite protestations to the contrary, they do not really want to get to Highgate at all. They do not want to face up to the challenge of existence.

They want to avoid it.

There are many ways in which this can be done. One of the most popular ways, especially in Western Buddhist circles, is by asking questions. Now you may have been thinking that people ask questions in order to dispel their doubts and clear up mental confusion and arrive at the truth, and admittedly this does sometimes happen. But most of the time people ask questions in order not to receive an answer. A real live answer is the last thing they want. Even if they got it they would not know what to do with it. Probably they would feel like a small boy playing at hunting lions and tigers in the garden who was confronted by a real live lion or tiger escaped from the zoo. So they go on asking questions. What is the nature of nirvana? How can the law of Karma operate when there is no permanent self? What is the evidence for rebirth? How shall we know that we have gained Enlightenment? Where does ignorance come from? Can one really desire not to desire? How is it possible to be fully aware, when awareness means being aware that you are aware, and so on ad infinitum? Has a dog Buddha-nature? Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? To questions of this kind Zen gives no answer, at least it does not answer them on their own terms or from their own point of view. Generally, it prefers to put a counter-question, saying, in effect, `Why do you ask the question?' Or, more challengingly, `Who is it that asks?' In this way the exchange is at once placed on an entirely different basis. From being abstract and theoretical it becomes concrete and existential. The questioner is forced to realize, however dimly, that far from being motivated by a disinterested `scientific' desire for the truth he is influenced by factors of which he is largely unconscious and that what he is really trying to do is to escape from the truth.

Most people, of course, resist this realization. Their own motives are the last thing they are prepared to scrutinize. But Zen does not let them get away with it so easily. By one means or another, with the help of slaps and shouts if words fail, it drags them back from philosophy and religion and psychology, even from Zen, and compels them to look where perhaps they never thought of looking before - at their own mind.

This is just what each one of you should do. Otherwise this talk will have been wasted. What I have said should be taken, however, as being itself a direct pointing to the mind. Take it as a talk about direct pointing to the mind, and you will miss the whole point.

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