More on lines from Trust in Heart-Mind attributed to the 6th century Zen teacher, Seng Tsan:
The arising of “other” gives rise to self; giving rise to self generates others. Know these seeming two as facets of the One Fundamental Reality…
To put your trust in the Heart-Mind is to live without separation, and you are one with your Life-Source.
“Facets of one fundamental reality.” Lots of people are feeling more isolated, lonelier, more cut off, than ever as “shelter in place” enters its third month. Seng Tsan reminds us that regardless of what happens, each of us is one sliver of a multi-faceted reality that is much bigger than each of us.
I wanted to punish the bus driver responsible for my friend’s horrific accident which resulted in her leg being amputated. I was like the 16th century Chinese Zen poet, Chu Han, wrote,
How I wish to kill!
How I wish not to kill!
The thief I have caught
Is my own son.
But my friend, who was not even a meditator took a few deep breaths, rose up in her wheelchair, pointed to the expanse of Lake Superior out the window of her rundown apartment and exclaimed at the marvelous view. It seemed that she had opened to the One Fundamental Reality. When I asked about the bus driver who ran her over, she expressed deep concern for his well-being as if he were her own son!
This is what the Taoist sage Lao Tzu calls “having a spirit,” which is in a condition of security:
When a drunken man falls out of a cart, though he may suffer, does not die. His bones are the same as other people’s; but he meets his accident in a different way. His spirit is in a condition of security. He is not conscious of riding in the cart; neither is he conscious of falling out of it. Ideas of life, death, fear and the like cannot penetrate his breast, and so he does not suffer from contact with objective existence. If such security is to be got from wine, how much more is to be got from the Way?
My friend was like Chuang Tzu’s drunken man who had let go of any picture of himself or how he should be.As she sat there breathing naturally and deeply, her demeanor reminded me that all we have to do is trust in our own heart/mind and we will return to our natural condition of security quite naturally. In ancient Greece, to be in good spirits was considered to be in good breath since the two words have the same etymological origin.
But whether we are in touch with our breathing or not, whenever we allow our mind to drop directly into our heart center, we live without separation and are one with our life source. If that’s not security, I don’t know what is.
I’d like to say more about one of my favorite passages from the early Zen prose-poems, Trust in Heart-Mind, attributed to Seng Tsan, the third ancestor in our Chinese lineage:
“When the mind exists undisturbed in the Way, there is no objection to anything in the world. And when there is no objection to anything, things cease to be in the old way. When no discriminating attachment arises, the old mind ceases to exist. Let go of things as separate existences, and mind too vanishes. Likewise, when the thinking subject vanishes, so too do the objects created by mind.”
One of our tasks as Zen practitioners is to cultivate awareness of our minds and emotions without “objecting to anything” we experience. In our meditation practice, the first step is to cultivate awareness of our thoughts and emotions. The second step is to hear and validate even our darkest thoughts or emotions. Our limbic system which processes our emotions, does not mature as we age, so dark emotions come up for all adults, even Zen teachers! If we do not repress them or chatter to ourselves about them. we can free ourselves from their “stickiness.”
As neuroanatomist Jill Taylor says in My Stroke of Insight, our higher cortical functions take “new pictures” of a thought or emotion that is coming up in the present. When we compare the new information with the automatic reactivity of our limbic mind, we can reevaluate the current situation and purposely choose to neither indulge the emotion nor repress it.
Taking these two steps in our meditation happens quite naturally as we slow things down in our meditation.
Jill says, “Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert in the limbic system. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds. This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. A persistent meditation practice is the best way to do this. However, if you continue to feel fear, anger- the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.”
Each time a negative emotion comes up, we have a chance to become aware of it, radically accept it and as we do this we naturally settle into a deep calmness and feeling of connectedness with the world around us. When this happens, we no longer pour fuel on the fire of the specific emotion with our thinking. As Seng Tsan says, “we are undisturbed in the Way.”
and when there is no objection to anything, things cease to be in the old way. When no discriminating attachment arises, the old mind ceases to exist.
A year ago, I went to Duluth to visit my friend, who had just had her leg amputated above the knee after being run over by a city bus. As she described her experience of being pried out from beneath the bus, she was very calm and matter of fact. Her small mind was so undisturbed, that each time I asked her about the intensity of her anger and sadness, she pointed out the glorious view from her room of Lake Superior and the waves lapping against the shore.
It was as if her accident brought her to the realization that she was more than just a single wave, herself, or a single constellation of waves but the entire ocean. Her “old mind,” her baggage-carrying mind had ceased to exist. This is what Jill Taylor experienced also, as a result of her stroke.
Each of us can let our “old mind” drop away through a consistent meditation practice. But I don’t want to be too idealistic about this. Even though the “old mind” drops away, we never know when our limbic system is going to get set off and it comes roaring back. How many times have I come home after a few days single minded meditation in a retreat setting and my limbic system gets set off by an encounter I have with a family member? Luckily, it is possible for all of us to let 90 seconds pass when a strong emotion comes up and just breath while the fire of the emotion peters out.
When this happens, small mind vanishes: “Let go of things as separate existences, and mind too vanishes. Likewise, when the thinking subject vanishes so too do the objects created by mind.”
The more we learn to be aware of our waves of emotion as they emerge, the more we realize that the waves are not separate from the ocean. We can appreciate them as they are rather than getting bowled over by them. When this happens, the separate thinking subject vanishes.
My younger grandson, Logan, had a really difficult time learning to swim. Each summer for several year we took him to swimming lessons. Whenever the teacher tried to get him to relax in the water, he froze up. One day several years into the process, he finally relaxed into the water. When I looked down at him at the end of the lesson, his mind was “undisturbed in the way” and he exclaimed, “Look Grandpa, I just floats!” Through your meditation practice, you can learn to “just floats,” too.
In my last piece I talked about two lines from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu:
He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far.
The next two lines read:
He who tries to shine dims his own light
He who defines himself can’t know who he really is
The poor hare/rabbit doesn’t realize he has a great light within him, which illuminates everything in its warm glow. So he is continually trying to shine by winning, winning, winning. But there’s always someone else ahead of him or catching up to him, and he gets exhausted. The turtle, on the other hand, knows how to go inside his shell where it is totally dark and he finds safety there. By losing himself in this darkness, he emerges with a wonderful feeling of lightness, a quiet joyfulness in which he feels connected to all life including the poor hare who is continually racing around him. And when he emerges and takes one step, he feels supported by everyone and everything he sees. He has no interest in being anything more than he is already, so he even enjoys the mud, with all its unsanitary grittiness. In fact, that is his natural home.
In this way, he is in the same lineage as Lao Tzu and a series of holy fools including Han Shan, San Simeon, St. Francis, Ryokan, and Ikkyu.
This is a lineage that’s not hard to join. All you have to do, as Lao Tzu says above, is stop trying to define yourself and just be who you are. The 9th century poet Han-shan says,
“Instead of seeking to find the Tao, notice that your nature is already complete. What Heaven bestows is perfect. Looking for something else leads you astray. Leaving the trunk to search among the twigs, all you get is confusion.”
Han-shan, who had been well trained in Zen, but now lived high on cold mountain, would stroll for hours in the corridors of the monastery below, occasionally letting out a cheerful cry, or laughing or talking to himself. When driven away by the monks, he would stand still afterwards, laugh, clap his hands, and disappear.
By going into our shell regularly through our meditation practice, we can settle into just being who we are instead of worrying about who we have been or who we might be. We realize that our “nature is already complete.”
We can bask in the stillness that’s right here as we rest by the trunk. To do this, all we need to do is stop searching for the twigs per Han Shan or cut off all the dead wood, as the 17th century Zen adept Basho suggests in the following poem:
Cutting a tree,
seeing the sawed trunk it grew from:
As we cut away dead wood of our repetitive anxious chattering, our mind becomes very quiet and suddenly cracks open and we see the radiant, still moon right in front of us shining its glow everywhere. Rigid rules of conduct or elaborate rituals are no longer needed, since they distract us from deeply enjoying being wherever we are. Right with the darkness of this pandemic is where we appreciate the light of the single moon.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher