Mind the Absolute

PART ONE

 THE CHUN  CHOU RECORD OF THE  ZEN MASTER  HUANG PO (TUAN CHI)

A collection of sermons and dialogues recorded by P’ei Hsiu while in the city of Chun Chou

1. “The Master said to me: All the Buddhas and all sentient Beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists. This Mind, which is without beginning, is unborn1 and indestructible. It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance. It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist, nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old. It is neither long nor short, big nor small, for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons. It is that which you see before you–begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and using mind to grasp Mind.

1 Unborn, not in the sense of eternity, for this allows contrast with its opposite; but unborn in the sense that it belongs to no categories admitting of alteration or antithesis.

Even though they do their utmost for a full aeon, they will not be able to attain to it. They do not know that, if they put a stop to conceptual thought and forget their anxiety, the Buddha will appear before them, for this Mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is all living beings. It is not the less for being manifested in ordinary beings, nor is it greater for being manifested in the Buddhas.”

As we shall see throughout this series, Huang Po is a Master Synthesist of the Mahayana. The opening lines here are reminiscent of Aśvaghosa’s “Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana”: “All phenomena are originally in the mind and have really no outward form; therefore, as there is no form, it is an error to think that anything is there. All phenomena arise from false notions in the mind; if the mind is independent of these false ideas [or concepts], then all phenomena disappears.”  Mind is the animator but It is not its own phenomenal manifestations; It is Absolute, apart from which no-thing has any self-substantive existence; in this sense Aśvaghosa’s work could also be entitled, “Awakening of Faith in the Absolute.”  Huang Po also follows the Tathagata’s lead in expounding that Mind is originally Unborn: “There is, O Monks, an unborn, an unbecome, an unmade, an unconditioned…” (Udana, viii, 3) Mind is condition-less and therefore transcends any categorical imperatives that rely exclusively upon nominalized characterizations. People fall into trouble, says Huang Po, because they begin to “reason about Mind” with their own limited phenomenal mind that is always conditioned and subject to the Five Skandhas for verification. Huang Po is also in league with The Dhammapada, which states that “mind cannot grasp Mind…Mind Alone Recollects Mind.”  This all creates needless anxiety, says Huang Po; all one need do is to simply put an end to the monster of conceptual thought altogether. Although as we shall see, it’s not just a simple matter as Huang Po has to pound this Realization again and again into the stupefied heads of his disciples. There is no separation here in Mind’s Self-Recollection of It’s own Un-bifurcated Absolute Reality; it is not less than It’s animations, nor is It greater than as It Is In Itself.

2. “As to performing the six paramitas1 and vast numbers of similar practices, or gaining merits as countless as the sands of the Ganges, since you are fundamentally complete in every respect, you should not try to supplement that perfection by such meaningless practices. When there is occasion for them, perform them; and, when the occasion is passed, remain quiescent. If you are not absolutely convinced that the Mind is the Buddha, and if you are attached to forms, practices and meritorious performances, your way of thinking is false and quite incompatible with the Way. The Mind is the Buddha, nor are there any other Buddhas or any other mind. It is bright and spotless as the void, having no form or appearance whatever. To make use of your minds to think conceptually is to leave the substance and attach yourselves to form. The Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of form or attachment. To practice the six paramitas and a myriad similar practices with the intention of becoming a Buddha thereby is to advance by stages, but the Ever-Existent Buddha is not a Buddha of stages. Only awake to the One Mind, and there is nothing whatsoever to be attained. This is the REAL Buddha. The Buddha and all sentient beings are the One Mind and nothing else.”

1 Charity, morality, patience under affliction, zealous application, right control of mind and the application of the highest wisdom.

Huang Po (from here on he shall be referred to as The Master) also tries to knock some practical sense into the thick heads of his disciples. Many of them, like all stupefied followers of cultural and religious mores and regulations, are bound by these normative strangleholds thus measuring their very self-worth exclusively following these external customs like a dog tagging along on the leash of its master. The Master says to follow them, like the six paramitas, when one has occasion to (as is expected by their cultural peers) but then afterwards to just remain quiescent in the Recollection of Mind. The six paramitas (charity, discipline, morality, patience, meditation, intuitive wisdom) are essential in one’s development and character; yet they are not to be worshiped in and of themselves. I know from my own years (over 30) of formation and then actually performing the ministerial responsibilities of a priest the values of these paramitas; but they indeed are not ends in themselves. As The Master states, being attached to any external formalizations only hinder one’s advancement in the ways of the Buddhadharma. Awakening to “Buddha-mind” is not one of awakening via any external stages, but only by Being-Undividedly-Aware (Bodhi); the Buddha-mind is not something to be attained (like jumping through some external “hoops”) but Self-Recollected. It’s a Recollection to the True Buddha Reality of one Undivided and Absolute Mindfulness.

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