We always come to the practice after the word, after the thought ‘I am’ arises. This means we bring with us all our expectations, prejudices and opinions about how the mind should operate and about how we should go about resolving a problem. And there is the hidden thought that one way or another we are going to confirm our opinions.
When you are looking into ‘I am’ or into ‘Mu’, you come to the question with an armful of weapons, of tricks, of method, of logic, and this already sets the problem up in terms of what the problem is not. Before the word is spoken, what is it? Before the thought ‘I am’ arises, what are you? This ‘before’ is not in time, but in terms of order. Where does the thought ‘I am’ come from?
You are not what you think you are. It is the change from being outside to inside that is at issue, but you cannot do this with the mechanisms you bring to it. You think you are something, but you are everything. But once one says you are everything, it gives the idea of you being a collection of things. What is everything right now? Where would you find the end of everything right now? Where would you find the beginning of everything right now? How do you grasp everything right now? This gives a taste of what we are talking about, but to say that you are everything does not work because ‘everything’ has all kinds of connotations, expectations, attached to it. When you speak any word you invoke all other words; a word is not a word in isolation, it is always part of a network. As a consequence, when you bring in a word you bring in a world. But what is there before that word?
The Surangama sutra is primarily about the six senses and their relation to Mind or knowing. The senses are all variations of knowing – knowing through seeing, knowing through hearing, knowing through touch, smell, etc. And they are always there, they do not come and go, just as knowing does not come and go. Buddha was at great pains to try and get Ananda to see this. He struck the bell and asked, ‘do you hear that?’ And of course Ananda said he did. ‘And when the bell stops ringing, do you hear?’ and Ananda says, ‘of course not, there is nothing to hear’. Buddha had several tries, but Ananda did not get it. Eventually Buddha points out to Ananda that the sound of the gong, the hearing of the sound, and the perception of the hearing are three different things. There is a difference between sound and no sound on the one hand and hearing and no hearing on the other. Sound and no sound are momentary, they come and go. Hearing and not hearing are permanent; or you could say they are the same, it is the presence of a sound that makes them different. Hearing belongs to the pure essense of mind, it does not come and go.
The thought ‘Who am I?’ is the gong, it is not the knowing that is the gong. The thought comes and goes, just as the sound of the gong comes and goes; knowing does not come and go, But the knowing is not a substratum that underlies everything; if you think this you are carrying forward the prejudice that the mind must be something. But this does not mean to say the mind is impermanent.
You hear sound, but when the sound ceases, you say I don’t hear. Or when thinking stops, you say I don’t know. When we say there has to be a radical shift, it is away from the world to the knowing. The question is how can you know knowing? It is in the nature of knowing only to know from within. The secret is to get to the ‘I am’ before the thought ‘I am’ arises. Once it arises, one is outside. One has to come to it in a state of purity and nakedness.
What is it that everything comes out of? What is the source? What is the source of perception? The essence of the discerning, perceptive, conscious mind has no definite location anywhere.