Tenshin Reb Anderson Roshi just came to Clouds in Water for a retreat. He spoke about the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, which can be translated as “Understanding the profound mystery or intimacy of the Buddha’s teaching”. It was a very succinct series of talks about what “mind” is in Buddhism and the different interpretations in Indian and Chinese Buddhism. These talks were a series based on his new book: The Third Turning of the Wheel: Wisdom of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra.
He was working with clarifying our understanding of the Mind-only School of Buddhism. His main translation for mind-only was conscious-construction-only. If we have had a taste of a mind that is not working through language, naming, and ideas i.e. a quiet mind or a non-thinking mind or a single-pointed mind, then it becomes easier to understand the meaning of our world which is arising from consciously constructed thought. Because of this contrast between silence and construction, we become more aware of our obviously constructed world. It is not that the consciously constructed world is wrong or bad. This is what human minds do. We construct. This is the dilemma and paradox of being human. We must learn to work with relative life and know it as a thought construction. Because of this knowing, we can begin to abandon our clinging to the suffering caused by our own storytelling. We begin to not take our storytelling so seriously and therefore we can enter into the moment that is always free of our constructed bondage.
ALL phenomena have three characteristics:
1. Imputational, imaginary, fantasy, made up of our thoughts, constructions and projections- our stories and our historic self. What might be in Buddhist technical terms called the “dream”.
2. The other-dependent, interdependent co-arising. All phenomena appear because of an “other” cause. We, and all objects are dependent on cause and effect. We arise because that happened. As Thich Nhat Hann often writes: the self is made up of non-self elements.
3. Thoroughly established – suchness. This is the true reality of each moment. You can call it, in the affirmative view – suchness, or in the view that negates – emptiness. But however you label it, it is the eternal source penetrating all time, all space and all phenomena. It is always present right here right now, completely unimpeded, and penetrated into the appearance of the phenomena of the moment. I think this is what Huineng was suggesting in the phrase - Direct mind without clinging.
The analysis of the moment into three characteristics helps us not to cling to either side of the duality of form or emptiness. Rather to see them as co-arising. With this understanding, we can begin to have a correct relationship with our lives. We can learn how to live our human lives to the fullest. It is an explanation to alleviate or be an antidote to, what some people could interpret as a nihilistic view of Buddhism; a misunderstanding of “everything is empty”.
In order to live our lives out to the fullest, we have to understand the implications of the first characteristic – that our minds very naturally impute on phenomena a whole fantasy of story, linear time, and desire-oriented attachments. Even just bringing this understanding to consciousness, affects how we see our relationship to the fantasy stories we’ve created through our thought constructions. Even this simple awareness makes a change in our clinging to the suffering caused by solidifying our stories.
It’s important to understand the second characteristic – the other-dependent. We need to understand the impersonal nature of cause and effect. Cause and effect is a natural law of form and by itself, it doesn’t have an overlay of good or bad, it just performs its function naturally. It does not have the power to refute non-virtue. So if we do something that is tainted by our imputations, the effect will also be tainted. Cause and effect is an unbiased mirror but its reflection can be afflicted by our clinging to our imputations and projections. It can be the dependant co-arising of our afflicted projections or it can be the dependant co-arising of our awakening. Our practice is to understand the on-going process of our delusions that are afflicted by our imaginations and then, in understanding this, convert this into freedom from clinging to our fantasies and our afflictions.
We like our fantasies because they are a diversion from what is actually going on moment-to-moment. It is very difficult, radical, mind-blowing, to stay in direct contact with what is actually happening in this here and now.
In the absence of our attachments and our strong adherence to our projections, we can come to know suchness. When you can see or taste that which is ultimately true and is not distorted by our projections, that tasting in itself will help you to relinquish the projections. This seeing takes you to Buddhahood, Reb said, and it occurs always and simultaneously with the first two characteristics of projection and inter-dependence.
Pema Chodron teaches this in a quite simple way. Her directions are to drop the storyline and abide with the underlying energy of the moment. She encourages us to vow to do this interruption of the storyline over and over.
Tenshin Reb Roshi also taught that the paramitas are how we get to this awakening and they are also the practice after we have digested this teaching. The bodhisattva training of the 6 paramitas: generosity, patience, ethics, enthusiasm, meditation and wisdom, is how we work with the world of imputation before and after seeing the illuminated mind. Our practice is this constant study of the mind. We study how we become disoriented and spun around, and then we are aware of our process of reorientation, over and over.
Don’t misinterpret emptiness. We are practicing correctly when our understanding and taste of emptiness brings us around to taking care of the conventional world even more. In beginning to understand and use the 3 characteristic in all phenomena, this becomes the focus of the enlightenment process. This awareness brings the development of true compassion for our stories. We learn to walk in this world with a deep understanding that things are always free of all our ideas about them. Our ideas don't reach the inconceivable beauty of our lives.