Studying What Mind?

 

There is nothing outside the mind, so how can we study the mind? It’s like, we have eyes to see, but our eyes cannot see themselves directly; there just isn’t enough distance. So in a way, we cannot really study our own mind. When we talk about “study”, we usually think in terms of subject and object; there is a subject that studies and an object that is being studied. Then what happens in between we call perception. Needless to say, this is a wonderful ability that works fine for all kinds of practical purposes but not for studying the mind itself. How can we study what we truly are when we cannot make a separation? How can we study what we cannot see, hear, or define, something that our senses fail to observe? We can even wonder whether this mind actually exists or not! What mind are we studying? We use it all the time, but what is it? And if we don’t know our very own mind, how can we allow it to function properly?

This conundrum seems to me to be the best rationale for meditation. In zazen we can behold the mind by turning away from all objects of observation and going beyond dualistic notions. Something happens when we do that. Suddenly subject and object, inside and outside, cannot be distinguished anymore. All forms we perceive are recognized as temporary appearances without any substance. This gives room for what is essentially non-empty to spring forth – the nature of mind itself, which is joyous, pure, everlasting, and all-inclusive. These four characteristics, or “dharma seals”, are not dependent on any condition. We do not need to create them. In a way, these seals do not even need to be cultivated; they are already fully operational. We just need to de-cultivate our tendency to ignore them. When we recognize them within ourselves, all of our observations come from a completely different perspective and we begin to live a new life.

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