The Mirror

teisho 1074  (2007)

Many people have a propensity to adopt a certain kind of mental posture:  it is a posture of being on guard.  When it is exaggerated, it is the posture of bracing, bracing against thoughts and ideas.  But being on guard in this way simply establishes a separation between me who is practicing and the me who is thinking, dreaming.  As long as there is this separation, one is working against the practice.

Nisargadatta says, “we must go back to the state of pure being.” What is this state of pure being? We tend to feel that it is a special way of being that is apart from the everyday mind state.  It is from this that we get the ‘guardian’ holding back the thoughts and peering into the dark looking for Mu.

  And so we get the idea of the transcendental realm, beyond and vastly superior to our everyday way of being. So much zazen time is spent wandering in this imaginary world.  We hear, ‘go back to the state of pure being’ and because we understand the words we think we understand what is being said.

There is a distinction between ‘what I know’ and ‘that I know’.   Experience is what I know. We say, ‘The dog wants to go out.’   Or, ‘It is time for breakfast.’ or, ‘The bus is late.’   Each of these sentences expresses what I know and should be prefaced by ‘I know that.’  But we simplify, we drop away that which is constant: that I know.  Although we ignore it in this way, we should not ignore it completely. But we do.  And this is the basis of what Buddhism means by ignorance.  Out of that ignorance comes the whole disaster that we call our life. We ignore that I know and acknowledge only what I know.  We ignore that I am and acknowledge only what I am:  ‘I am a man”, ‘I am a father,’   ‘I am a teacher’, ‘I am happy’.  That I am is constant and unchanging.  Nisargadatta calls ‘that I am’ the state of pure being, and this we ignore.

A mirror gives us a good way of looking at this: there is the mirror and there are the reflections in the mirror that come and go:  they are transient, unstable, impermanent. The mirror is permanent, unchanging, constant.  We say that we look into the mirror, not at it or through it. The reflections have no self nature, they are dependent on the mirror for their reality.  But the mirror is not dependent on the reflections for its reality.

When Nisargadatta says ‘Go back to that state of pure being’, people think they have to get rid of the reflections so that they can see the mirror;  that they have to get beyond all the thoughts because hidden behind them is pure being, I am. It is like someone taking some sand paper to sand away the reflections so that they can see the mirror.

When we ask ‘what is Mu?’ we are asking ‘what is pure being?  being without content, knowing without content. This does not mean we must get rid of content. But it does mean that we cannot grasp it – anything that can be grasped belongs under ‘what I am’ or ‘what I know’.

Start from where you are: your mind is wandering, confused, or torpid and dull – these are the reflections in the mirror. It is waking up to the mirror.   One has to leap from one order of reality to another – this is kensho.  Whatever you are experiencing is what you are looking for.  You will never find it because it was never lost.  Just wake up.


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