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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 41 |summer 2006 ultimate, reality to which they give names such as “oneness” or “God.” Actually, we enter this oneness when we experience unified mind in meditation. In the West, it may be called oneness, but according to the Chan dharma, we need to put down this unified mind, to let go of it. We do not want to think of this unified mind as the highest, or ultimate, truth. But how do we get to what is the high- est truth? We have to drop everything, and then we will come to the point of formless- ness, or nonattachment to all forms. Forms are products of causes and conditions. As such they are changing and nonsubstantial. They still exist; it is just that the enlight- ened mind does not abide in them. This idea of formlessness is different from theories that postulate an original substance or an original cause. Buddha- dharma, in contrast, advocates the idea that everything arises because of causes and conditions, and is therefore empty, or formless. Now, let’s compare the emptiness of the dharma of the teachings with the emptiness that is actualized in the dharma of mind. The emptiness of the dharma of teachings is arrived at through logical deduction or through analysis. In both cases we are using the mind to reach understanding. However, to actually realize empti- ness, we use Chan methods such as silent illumination1 and huatou.2 Regardless of which method we use, when our mind reaches a unified state, we should not cling to that state. But we cannot just do this at will; we must continue to apply our method, again and again, until even uni- fied mind disappears of its own accord. What remains is no-mind, or the actual realization of emptiness. When conditions in our practice mature, and we encounter some kind of acute stimulus – certain sounds, words, or sights – all doubts and questions may sud- denly disappear. Or perhaps suddenly we are able to put down our already stabilized mind, and all thoughts instantly disinte- grate and shatter. It is as if we have just broken through a silk cocoon in which we have been confined. Not only has the cocoon disappeared, but the silkworm has disappeared. We are free of all burdens. Everything still exists, but there is no self; that is to say, there is no clinging and vexa- tion associated with our self. This empti- ness is reached through spiritual practice, and is different from the emptiness reached through analysis or logic. When seeing the nature, one realizes that all phenomena are insubstantial and that the self has always been nonexistent. At this time, one is able to put down all attachments. However, sooner or later, depending on the person and the depth of the experience, one’s self-centeredness and attachments return. Therefore, it is extremely important to continue using methods of practice. For example, when we are practicing huatou at the deeper level called “watching the huatou,” we feel at one with the huatou; we have become the huatou. At this level, we may experience things like unified mind, dilu- tion of the sense of self, and even emp- tiness. If we continue to practice at this level, our realization will deepen. Regardless of whether or not one can repeat the experience, seeing the nature is extremely valuable. Although one still has self-centeredness, many vexations will have been eliminated. Having experienced putting down one’s mind, one also deve- lops a high degree of self-confidence and will never again lose one’s spiritual prac- tice. This experience is like suddenly seeing light for the first time. Although the light will fade or disappear, the individual will still know what that light is, because he or she has actually seen it. Something like this happens when one experiences seeing the nature, or emptiness. A shallow experi- ence of enlightenment can be called seeing the nature, while a deeper experience of enlightenment can be called liberation. There is also the case where someone has some kind of an experience and then mistakenly believes they are enlightened. For instance, while using the method they eventually reach a point where they have no wandering thoughts. It may even seem for a time that there is no sense of self, and they experience a feeling of being in infinite space. In this infinite space, there is no sun, no moon, and no earth – just space. They may think that this is an experience of emptiness, but actually this is just samadhi – a relatively shallow sama- dhi, one in a series of stages of samadhi. There are also people who, while prac- ticing meditation or engaging in daily life, have very strong concentration, and suddenly time and space, as well as the method, drop away. These people are using their brain in a very tense way, and suddenly they enter a vast, empty space that could be filled with light, or even without light. They may think that they have experienced emptiness. But actually, this is just a case where the practitioner’s mind may have become unstable due to too much tenseness in the practice. It is not an experience of emptiness or enlight- enment. So, it is essential that we relax our minds and bodies as we use our method. We have talked about the experience of emptiness via the dharma of mind, in which one uses a practice method to real- ize emptiness, or formlessness. By using the practice method, one learns to let go of the self and to realize this emptiness. Are there people who are able to actualize 1 In silent illumination, the practitioner focuses on the act of “just sitting.” Silent illumination is similar to the shamatha-vipashyana (insight meditation) of Theravada, as well as to the shikantaza (“just sitting”) of Japanese Zen. 2 The huatou (Jap., wato; literally, “head of a thought”) method is similar in most respects to the gong’an (Jap., koan) practice. The main difference is that rather than meditating on the whole gong’an, the practitioner of huatou continually asks a question that can be taken from a gong’an, or it may be an original question, such as, Who am I? The intent and end result of both gong’an and huatou are otherwise similar. When our mind reaches a unified state, we must continue to apply our method, again and again, until even unified mind disappears of its own accord. What remains is no-mind, or the actual realization of emptiness.