The Ordinary Mind
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
"Chao-chou asked Nan-ch'uan, 'What is Tao?'
Nan-ch'uan said, 'Ordinary mind is Tao.'"
This is the beginning of the nineteenth case in the Mumonkan (Aitken). I understand it literally, this unenlightened mind is Tao. The ordinary mind is not some mysterious and hidden seed of Reality within; it is the mind that now is, how ever it is. It is not some 'divine spark' abiding within corruption; if there is 'corruption' it is also that corruption. If there is bondage, it is also that bondage. "All duality is falsely imagined." If so, then falsely imagining is also Tao.
But I cannot really quote Zen masters, or any others that I know, to support this view. Their intended meaning is something altogether different. My view is, quite simply, a 'heterodox' view. It is heresy. Consider the words of Mazu (Zen Essence: The Science of Freedom; Thomas Cleary):
If you want to understand the Way [Tao] directly, the normal mind is the Way. What I mean by the normal mind is the mind without artificialities, without subjective judgments, without grasping or rejecting.So, the normal mind is not this mind that now functions, but some other, purer mind. There are conditions to meet, for though this normal mind is already free of these ailments which typify this apparently non-normal mind now at work, one must somehow discover and liberate it from this degenerative non-normal mind. But if this mind is not normal mind, then there are two minds.
Surely, there must be traditions which agree with my view, but I have yet to discover them. (There is that great sage Zhouzi, but alas, I made him up.) In any case, I feel no virtuous pride in diverging here. I would gladly discover and learn from others of the same persuasion. What I apparently will not do, however, is surrender my own understanding to that of another.
It may very well be that the normal mind is the brain. This is to say, it is a bio-electrical 'material' phenomenon and nothing more (or less). I suspect that this is the case, but since questions of personal survival are left to the realm of the unavoidable unknown, it does not matter.
The point, it seems to me, is to realize the fullest potential of the human experience, and the satori experience, whatever its interpretive rendering, goes a long way in doing just that. I would only hope that that experience might also arise from realizing that this mind now blabbing is Tao. Of course it is.
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.