Look at this mind.
Dharma, we are told, is what pervades samsara, nirvana, happiness and suffering. In other words the Dharma, the truth revealed by the Buddha, covers the entire world of samsara and nirvana, existence in all its infinite particulars as well as the whole big picture of life.
And the root of all Dharmas is one’s own mind. Now we are talking about Dharmas as things, particular events and phenomena. You can look at any particular thing within the entirety of samsara and nirvana and it will be an experience taking place in what we call the mind. ‘Mind is the forerunner of all things; Mind is the chief’ as the Buddha said long before anyone had thought of the Vajrayana and sadhana approaches to practice.
All is mind. Everything is an experience. Nothing happens in the abstract.
And so we should look at this mind. And first we can ask if the shapes and forms that are experienced are the mind itself. I think this is a good question. The instruction, though, suggests that form appears to the mind, or in the mind, but is not the mind itself. The mind itself is something other than the things that manifest within it. So the verse says, ‘In mind, there is no colour and no shape.’
Then it suggests that mind itself is not a dharma, not a thing: ‘Being no thing by nature.’ This is because everything is essentially free of fixed nature, empty of anything that confines it to being this or that. And ‘Being no thing by nature, it is empty of ‘one’ and ‘many.’ Because we wonder sometimes if there is one mind which is everything. Some people think this is a Buddhist view, the One Mind, and our experience is just a part of that. Or are there many individual minds, like my mind, Mahabodhi’s mind, Uncle Tom Cobley’s and all minds. The verse says no, you can’t say that, because though it’s fine to look at it in those different ways, they are just points of view. The actual, final truth is not possible to express. Mind is empty of self nature, it is not possible to say in a final definitive way that it is one thing or many.
And so, ‘Being empty, it is free of arising, ceasing and dwelling.’ A further thing about the empty nature of mind is that it does not arise or pass away, or even stay. The shapes and forms experienced in the mind may appear to arise, stay for a while and then disappear, but you can’t say the mind does that.
The mind, in its nature – its highly mysterious nature that we are looking into now – is free in ways we hadn’t imagined before. Freedom itself has dimensions we hadn’t imagined, and still can’t imagine yet. The verse says: ‘Being free, it is unceasing clear appearance where all constructs (have) come to rest.’ That is our experience: appearances manifest themselves continuously and clearly without a break. Like the sounds, ideas, colours and forms that are manifesting for each of us right now. The flow of appearances has not stopped. There is no need to construct things out of those appearances. We can, but we don’t have to, we can just relax the construction aspect, the story telling aspect, and simply experience the flow of dharmas, the flow of appearances. Construction, making up a world, can come to a rest. And this would be a great thing. ‘This mind of peace is great, unbounded, and free from all extremes. Let go and relax into a state free from all mental activity.’ It is free from extremes like saying it is this or that, free of making positions and free of views about it. All that can be relaxed. We can simply allow the mind to be.
This is not easy because, as we are surely learning, we are strongly conditioned to view the world in certain ways and we can hardly help making very strong constructions. But meditating like this at least can give some glimpses into how that is not necessary and it is not the way things actually are. And a glimpse is enough to make a big shift, a huge shift, a great lurch towards nirvana or freedom from views and the suffering that they involve.
Perhaps it is clearer then that this kind of shift, away from the fixed knee jerk attitudes of samsara towards the freedom of mind that is nirvana, this kind of shift is a natural thing, it is part of our nature, it is an inbuilt characteristic of what we call the mind, this mysterious and amazing mind.
And perhaps it is also clearer, now we have worked with these verses for a while, how the notion of emptiness is absolutely vital for this. Emptiness is like that magic touch which transforms everything, that frees everything from itself, from ideas about what it is. Even though it is so simple, emptiness is one of those massive evolutionary shifts that changes life forever.
Without awakening, though, emptiness is a bit pointless. Awakening, and the Buddha Nature that awakening brings to a conclusion, is what solves the problem of emptiness. The problem is our nihilistic interpretations of emptiness. These are hard not to have. Nagarjuna spent all that energy writing the Mula Madhyamaka Karika, the Verses of the Middle Way, and bent over backwards trying to show that sunyata is not just nothing. But I still observe that most people find the notion of emptiness not that illuminating. And even many Buddhist schools seem to have a somewhat nihilistic view of emptiness.
I think we can see from what we’ve been looking at that emptiness can be identified with awakening in the sense that to realise freedom we need to align our being with the nature of emptiness