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Seeing Into One-s Own Nature and Realising Buddhahood

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by Sangharakshita

... did he perceive him? Ananda replies that he perceived the Buddha with his eyes and his mind.

And where are these located? The eyes, like the other sense-organs, are located on the surface of the body, while the mind is hidden within the body.

This does not satisfy the Buddha. He points out that Ananda is now sitting in the hall of the retreat. First he sees the people sitting in the hall, and other things in turn, only afterwards does he see the grove and park outside. Similarly, if Ananda's mind were hidden within his body, in the sense of being spatially located there, he ought to be able to see his own internal organs first and external objects afterwards.

Ananda tries again. The mind may, after all, be located outside the body. It may be like a lamp which would illuminate the inside of the room first and then, shining through the doors and windows, illuminate the yard outside.

This, too, fails to satisfy the Buddha. One person's eating does not appease the hunger of all; in the same way, if Ananda's perceiving, understanding mind is really outside his body, then what the mind perceives could not be felt by the body, and what the body feels could not be perceived by the mind. Mind and body are in mutual correspondence, as is proved by the fact that when Ananda's eyes are looking at the Buddha's hand his mind makes discriminations about it. If mind and body are in mutual correspondence, it cannot possibly be said that the mind exists outside the body.

Ananda still thinks the mind must be located somewhere. If it cannot exist either inside or outside the body it must be located somewhere in between. Indeed, it may be concealed within the sense-organ itself. Just as the eye may be covered with a crystal bowl, so the mind may be `covered' by, or contained within, the eye. Being part of the eye it cannot see the inside of the body, but being concealed within the eye it can clearly perceive external objects.

To this explanation the Buddha objects that if the mind were, in fact, contained within the eye as the eye itself might be covered by a crystal bowl, then the mind ought to perceive the eye before perceiving external objects, just as the eye would see the bowl before seeing mountains and rivers.

In this way the dialogue proceeds. Ananda and the other members of the great assembly eventually realize that the mind, not being a spatially conditioned phenomenon, cannot be located anywhere. There is no time to follow the argument in detail, as step by step the Buddha leads Ananda to the highest realization, but it should already have become evident that the Surangama Sutra is one of the most magnificent of all Buddhist dialogues. Rivalling even Plato in atmosphere and in beauty of setting, its content is even profounder, being nothing else than the progressive revelation of the Buddha's crowning experience, his experience of the highest samadhi.

Now the mind not only cannot be located anywhere, but it does not exist as a thing among things at all.

Not being a thing, an object, it cannot really be perceived or seen. But the fourth line of our verse, the line with which we are at present dealing, speaks of seeing into one's own nature, that is to say, into one's mind. Obviously there is a contradiction here. How is it to be resolved? This brings us to one of the profoundest and most important teachings of Mahayana Buddhism, to a teaching of which Zen, at its best, is simply a practical exemplification. One sees the mind by not seeing.

Not being an object of perception but the principle of perception itself, the mind cannot ever be perceived.

Whatever is perceived is not the mind. For the mind to try to perceive its own existence is therefore like the tip of the finger trying to touch itself. Whatever is touched is not the finger-tip. The only way in which the finger-tip can possibly `touch' itself is by withdrawing from all contact with external objects and simply `feeling' its own existence directly. Similarly with the mind. We can never know it by going after it - with the mind - as though it were an external object distinct from the mind. This is what Zen calls `using the mind to seek for the mind' and it is quite useless. By following this procedure we may discover many `minds', but we shall not be able to discover the true mind, the principle of perception itself. The true mind can be found only by not-finding, by realization, that is to say, of a pure non-dual awareness without distinction of subject and object.

What has been said about `seeing one's own mind' applies with equal force to `realizing Buddhahood', for, as we have already seen, the two are different aspects of the same process. `Seeing' corresponds to `realizing', `mind' to `Buddha'. Just as it is ridiculous for the mind to try to see the mind, so it is ridiculous for the mind to try to realize Buddhahood. Zen tells us: You are Buddha. All that we have to do, it declares, is to wake up to the significance of this supreme fact. Devotional practices, scriptural study, even meditation, are ultimately a waste of time. Engaging in them is `using the Buddha to realize the Buddha', which is like a man's going in search of himself.

Of course it is not easy to wake up. In fact it requires a great deal of effort to do so. First of all we have to realize, however vaguely, that we are asleep. As you sit here listening to these words you are not awake, as perhaps you had imagined, but asleep, sound asleep. Zen is simply a voice crying `Wake up! Wake up!' Loud and clear though it resounds in your ear, so deep are your slumbers that you hear it but faintly, and coming as it were from a great distance. For five weeks now I have been talking about Zen; yet no one seems to have woken up. Perhaps I have not yet woken up myself. Perhaps I have just been talking in my sleep all this while. However, it sometimes happens that by talking in his sleep one sleeping person may rouse another. Let us hope that as a result of these talks on the essence of Zen something of that nature may have occurred.

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