Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #19
Ordinary Mind is the Way
Gateless Gate (Mumonkan, Wumenguan) #19
Ordinary Mind is the Way
Nanquan (748 - 835, 9th generation, Hongzhou) was a disciple of Mazu. His most famous pupil was Zhaozhou (778 - 897, 10th generation). At the time of this exchange, Zhaozhou was about 20 years old and Nanquan about 50.
Zhaozhou earnestly asked Nanquan, “What is the Way [the Dao]?”
Nanquan said, “The ordinary mind is the Way.”
Zhaozhou said, “Should I direct myself toward it or not?”
Nanquan said, “If you try to turn toward it, you go against it.”
Zhaozhou said, “If I do not try to turn toward it, how can I know that it is the Way?”
Nanquan said, “The Way does not belong to knowing or not-knowing. Knowing is delusion; not-knowing is a blank consciousness. When you have really reached the true Way beyond all doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as the great empty firmament. How can it be talked about on a level of right and wrong?”
At these words, Zhaozhou was suddenly enlightened.
Nanquan was asked a question by Zhaozhou, and Nanquan's base was shattered and melted away. He could not justify himself. Even though Zhaozhou has come to realization, he will have to delve into it for another thirty years before he can realize it fully.
The spring flowers, the moon in autumn,
The cool breezes of summer, the winter's snow;
If idle concerns do not cloud the mind,
This is a person's happiest season.
The ancient spilled his guts all at once. The sky-scraping falcon should take advantage of the time; the tired fish resting in the shallows wastes the effort to stir up waves.
If you want to know the normal Way,
Trust nature spontaneously.
When you row a boat, you need to raise the oars;
When you ride a horse, you apply the crop.
If you get hungry, obtain some food;
And you should sleep when tired.
All is attained through conditions,
Yet what is attained is not a condition.
If you think the normal mind is the Way,
You produce more ramifications on top of ramifications.
If you have taken off the sweaty shirt sticking to your flesh,
Given a call you find eyebrows atop your eyes.
Old Zen Poem (cited by Aitken)
What our eyes see is "ordinary":
it does not frighten people,
but it always remains
like the moonlight on the chilled window;
even at midnight it shines on thatched cottages.
Confucius' Verse (cited by Yamada)
The Way is at hand, but people are looking for it afar;
Farmers are using it every day without being aware of it.
We cannot be separated from the Way even for an instant;
What we can be separated from is not the Way.
I do not like such grandmotherly mildness. He ought to beat Zhaozhou severely, without a word.
This constant "ordinary" is not the commonplace mind of self-centered preoccupation. Selfish conduct, speech, and thought obscure the vast, moonlit mind of Nanquan. Nanquan is pointing to transformation here. Standing up before realization is the same as standing up after, yet they are not the same. Once you find intimacy with vast emptiness -- the genuine Dao -- your act of standing will be the act of the entire universe standing. And in the same act you will be standing alone. The Dao is not to be found simply in your relative world of trying and not trying, knowing and not knowing, attaining and not attaining. To direct yourself toward something is to postulate attainment. Postulation thus replaces attainment -- and true attainment is out the window. You are left clinging to something conjectural.
Dogen lamented the degeneration of Zen stemming from misunderstanding the expression "normal mind" or the saying "this mind is Buddha" to mean the ordinary mentality with its conditioned habits of thought. Once you recover the unconditioned consciousness of the pristine normal mind, then you turn from spontaneous absorption in the unity of suchness to precise awareness of the differentiations within suchness, so that you may be "not blind to causality." After realizing the timeless absolute, you return to the temporal world.
Spiritual work comes out of a need for the truth. We all know the truth because we are the truth. Indeed, it is because we are the truth that we seek the truth, it is because we are one and whole that we seek unity. Our problem is we have turned our back on the truth to search for its reflection in experience. But even though we have turned our back on it, the truth is always there. To find it, we have to let go of reflections and turn around. Striving after awakening, putting effort into our practice, being part of a spiritual team that is really going places, all this builds wonderful buffers. The Way is to see these buffers for what they are. It is to live in the moment, to be where one is, and not wish to move from that spot. The key to practice is honesty, and yet if one is honest one knows how difficult it is to be honest. And if one is honest, one knows one is striving to be special, unique, and that by fair means or foul one must rise above, transcend, go beyond, ordinary mind. The suffering of practice is to surrender this wish and to face whatever the wish has been hiding.
Children are in samadhi in their play, work, and daily routine. Animals, plants, and minerals are also in samadhi, in their way. The adult alone has lost samadhi. If he can only rid himself of the deluded way of thinking of ordinary consciousness, he can act like a child, whose mental condition we call innocent. In short, innocence is ordinary mind. When you are innocent, your internal pressure is in a state of equilibrium, and that is the condition of ordinary mind. In your daily life, you often enter a well-balanced, harmonious state of mind, for instance, when cooking, working in the garden, even getting up in the morning, putting on your clothes, going downstairs, or fastening your shoelaces. If only you could do these things in positive samadhi! ordinary mind is realized in your samadhi, and that is the way of peace of mind.
A fish does not recognize water, but has much to do with it. If a fish is conscious of the water, the fish will not be happy in it. Forgetting the water and living in it -- this is the secret of a happy life.
Dao has characteristically Chinese connotations. Here it can be taken to mean "the fundamental Truth in Zen" or "the essence of Zen." "Ordinary mind is Dao." Literally, it means, "Everyday mind as it is without any discrimination is Dao." We have to transcend our ordinary mind to attain the true ordinary mind, and in order actually to transcend our dualistic ordinary mind, sincere searching and hard discipline are required. When we have broken through the barrier where our ordinary mind is not at all ordinary mind, we can for the first time return to our original ordinary mind. The seeking mind itself is already the sought-after Dao. If we try to know it, it turns out to be a relativistic objective and ceases to be the Reality. What is known is only a conceptual shadow of the Reality. If, however, it is not known at all, it is only a dead blankness. Cast away all the discriminating consciousness and attain to the Dao of no-doubt. It will then be like the great void, so vast and boundless. There is no room for discrimination to enter here. The ordinary mind Zen upholds is not our dualistic ordinary mind, but it has to be the ordinary mind attained by satori.
Ordinary mind, what is that? It is nothing but our ordinary consciousness, our ordinary everyday life. It is just getting up, washing your face, eating breakfast, going to work, walking, running, laughing, crying; the leaves on the trees, the flowers in the field, whether white, red, or purple; it is birth, it is death. That is the Way. We do not even have to use the word "mind." The ordinary is the Way! When you are truly one with something, you are one with yourself. We find Dogen giving us this teaching in his Fukanzazengi: "Stop the activities of mind-consciousness. Stop thinking in concepts and ideas, and cease desiring to become Buddha."
To a mind simultaneously ordinary and boggled
The world's very banality is its profound, wondrous mystery.
Only let the unnecessary fall away --
By attending to its necessity.
Original meaning of 'normcore'
finding liberation in being nothing special
Illustration by Mark Morse, http://www.thegatelessgate.com/