Ideas Aren’t the Real Thing

From Newsletter of the Zen Community of Oregon and Great Vow Zen Monastery
April ’08 Issue

When we begin practice, we hear about different states of mind. We may hear terms like The Great Mystery, Deep Stillness, Quiet Mind, Oneness, or Enlightenment. Unfortunately, all these terms can add to our confusion about spiritual practice because we think of them as things to be had or achieved.

Because of our mental confusion, we quickly trap ourselves by trying to make our experience match our ideas. The notion of a quiet mind is a good example. We think we know “quiet mind” means. We assume there is a mind, that it can be made quiet, and that if we work hard we can do it.

Usually when we think of a quiet mind, we have some notion that there are no thoughts in whatever our idea of our ‘mind’ is and that this state is sustained over time. With this idea, people can spend years trying to get rid of thought so that their experience will match their idea of quiet mind.

It is sad to see people mired in a hopeless quest for the experience they think they should have. True, from the perspective of a noisy mind there is a state of less noise. But in the experience of deep quiet mind, there is no awareness of quiet or active.

The Great Mystery is also like this. It exists only from the perspective of the knowing mind. Enlightenment is as well, existing only as an idea held by the mind of separation. Oneness exists only from the perspective of two-ness.

It is essential that we have aspirations in practice. But these are only pointers, like the North Star, useful in helping us to follow the way, but useless as guideposts for experience. Experience cannot be expressed through words; what is the experience of eating an orange? How does a pomelo taste different than a grapefruit? How can anyone describe quiet mind with words?

What do words have to do with the direct experience of loving-kindness? If we think our conceptual understanding touches the real thing, we are like someone watching a video of the Himalaya Mountains who thinks they understand mountain climbing.

Instead of trying to match your conceptual understanding, cultivate as one who has a thousand tastes of enlightenment by chewing it over and over! To do this, let go of ideas. When we have no ideas we are the Great Mystery itself.

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