Happy Thought

不思量底   / fu shi ryo tei / Think not-thinking.
如何思量   / nyo ka shi ryo / How do you think not-thinking?
これ非思量なり  / ko re hi shi ryo nari / Beyond thinking.

These three famous sentences in Dogen Zenji’s Fukanzazengi are quoted from a dialogue between the Chinese Zen master Yaoshan Weiyan (751-834) and one of his students:

When Yaoshan was sitting, a monk asked him,
“What do you think when you sit?”
The master said, “I think of not-thinking.”
The monk asked, “How do you think of not-thinking?”
The master said, “Beyond thinking.”

非思量   / hi shi ryo, in particular, has been the subject of much discussion and speculation, and English translations vary: “Non-thinking” / “Different from thinking” / “Letting thoughts go” / “Be Before Thinking”. But the most common rendering is “Beyond thinking”. In general, this seems to refer to a non-preferential approach to thought processes as practiced in zazen; we are encouraged neither to suppress our thoughts nor to pursue them, and to just let them come and go. Yet the word beyond can easily lead to the idea that some magical, mystical state of consciousness is intended – and I don’t think that this is the case.

不思量底   / fu shi ryo is relatively easy: fu is a negation, although here it does not necessarily mean to imply the absence of thoughts. It is the function of our mind to produce thoughts, and just like the surface of water will never be completely still, there is always going to be some thought activity – even if we are not conscious of it. According to one translation, fu shi ryo can also be read as “think the unthinkable”. In other words, direct your attention to what cannot be captured by thoughts – the one who produces those thoughts. But, of course, the next question is: how to do that?

これ非思量なり  / ko re hi shi ryo nari is the conclusive answer from the master. Hi is also a negation, but more with the connotation of: “anti-”, “against”, “in opposition to”, etc. And, in my view, this refers directly to another important line in the Fukanzazengi: 回光返照  / turn your own light inward, which is also a quote from older scriptures. If we really turn our own light inward, we do not go with the flow of thoughts but we go against it; rather than busying ourselves with following or suppressing thoughts, we take them as a starting point and return to their source. So, Yaoshan’s answer becomes a question: who am I before any thought arises?

When we really turn our own light inward, all notions about inward or outward vanish and the mind connects seamlessly with the whole universe. However, we had to go so-called ‘inward’ to experience this. And, according to the Surangama Sutra, by doing this, we are miraculously freed from the conditioned patterns that usually keep our senses – including our cognitive faculty – firmly in their grip. Rather than being the victim of our thoughts, we suddenly become the master!

Consequently, our thinking becomes more and more creative. Thoughts don’t gang up against us anymore but line up and co-operate. Just like Kanzeon, after having cleared her acoustic faculty, can hear the cries of the world and respond to them directly, so too can our thinking process become an important tool for Bodhisattva activity.

What a happy thought!

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