The koan is Nansen’s flower. The introduction reads:
“Cease and desist. When the action of the mind is stopped, the iron tree blooms.”
Any movement of the mind is already too much. But it is not a question of suppressing thoughts as they arise. If you were alone in the house and you thought you heard something moving downstairs, you would listen. What does this mean? The mind doesn’t think, it is totally alert, you are all ears, one is just one with the hearing. The ‘all ears’ is when the mind is stopped, there isn’t room for thought.
When you loose a name, if you try to get it you don’t think about it, there is a suspension of the mind, almost as though one is trying to open a door to allow the name to emerge. Suspension of the mind is perhaps a better expression than stopping the mind.
We also have the suspension of disbelief. Watching a film one has to suspend disbelief. One suspends one’s critical faculties so that one can become one with the film.
The same thing with children playing with a doll, they know it is not alive, but there is that suspension of disbelief.
So this is not some mysterious faculty that is only attainable if one practices Zen. It is a common activity of the mind. In fact all true creation, when one is trying to pursue the nub of what is at issue, calls for a suspension of the mind, of the critical faculties. When a mathematician has a problem to resolve, the critical mind having discovered that something doesn’t work, a much deeper aspect of the mind takes over the problem, gives power to that problem, and that is the creative power that resolves the problem. The resolution often comes right out of the blue. Then it may take a week, a year or the rest of their lives working through to: “I see what it is.” There is a great similarity between the creative process and zazen, even to the point where in zazen there is that moment of ‘Oh yes, I’ve got it.’ That too usually takes the rest of their life to work out the consequences.
The same thing occurs with humor. You get two things clashing together and then there is this outburst of laughter, a release of tension. But before that there is a moment when the mind is blank, the mind stops thinking.
In songs and poems about falling in love you hear so often about someone being speechless, unable to speak in the presence of the beloved.
Let me emphasize again, this cease and desist is natural. We say to people “Your job is to keep the door open,” to suspend the logical, discriminating mind . One does not only suspend random thoughts; one no longer gives them the food they require to be active. The thoughts gradually loose their significance and dry up. By doing this the deeper aspect, the creative intelligence, can come into play. An essential element in this deeper intelligence is a tolerance for ambiguity. It is the conscious mind that always wants to establish is it this or is it that, to obtain a sense of certainty and security. The intellectual mind wants to have it all clear, to be certain.
Cease and desist. The iron tree blooms. There is a need for a high tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty, for the living situation; a tolerance for a lack of something stable to rest on.
Awakening is being one with reality. We think of reality as being out there, this is a certainty we live and die with; we do not entertain the thought that reality might be something other than ‘out there’. When we see the world as other, we are separate, we are no longer one with reality. Awakening is unattainable in terms of the conscious mind. Being one with reality involves seeing existence and non existence as equal. And when you see them equally, then others and self are not two; being the same as me, they are no longer existent or non existent.
“Heaven, earth and I are all of one root. The myriad things and I have one body.” The work we do is to strip away the veils, screens and barriers that prevent us from realising we are one with all.