Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ordinary Mind Is Dao

Scott Bradley


In the 19th koan of the Mumonkan Joshu asks Nansen, "What is Tao?" Nansen replies, "Ordinary mind is Tao." This statement seems simple enough. Take anyone off the street; this mind is Dao.

But this mind is a mess! This mind is full of anger and resentments, superstitions and delusions, rights and wrongs; in a word, this ordinary mind is in bondage. Is this Dao? Yes. This is my understanding, at any rate. Dao is not 'something' to which to aspire; it is what already 'is'. There is nothing to become. There are no conditions which need to be met. There is no gap between anything and Dao. There are not two.

If this idea (and it is an idea) bothers you, you might ask yourself why. Mumon, in one of his poems of response to a koan writes, "He who speaks of right and wrong, dwells in right and wrong." "Speaks of" means "worries about". If you are worried about the moral ramifications of this ordinary mess being Dao, then you are still dwelling in that mess. But not to worry; this, too, is Dao.

However, if you are still grinding your teeth at this heresy, let me assure you that you have a vast array of sages and 'enlightened' masters on your side. It is I who errs. Zenkei Shibayama, ostensibly just such an 'enlightened' master, is definitely on your side. "If Tao is literally our everyday mind as it is," writes he, "farmers and fishermen's wives would all know it, and we would not have to wait for saints and wise men to teach us and save us." God forbid that the common mind of common people should be Dao. Then we wouldn't need to be "saved" by enlightened masters. Saved? Here, I, at least, part ways with the saints and wise; there is no one and no thing that needs to be saved. This is my heresy, and I'm sticking to it.

But there is the question of "knowing it". The common mind of the plebs is Dao — they just don't realize it. And because they don't know it, their minds are less joyful than they would otherwise be. Oh well, this, too, is Dao.

Zenkei continues: "This means we have to transcend our ordinary mind to attain the true ordinary mind...our original ordinary mind..." Who’s piling heads on top of heads now? ("Do not put false heads above your own", were the last words of Nyogen Senzaki.) "True" ordinary mind? (Not the 'false' ordinary mind.) "Original" ordinary mind? ("Original"? What is the origin of this? It must be our "birthright", Dao's plan for us. We didn't simply arise as we are — we were something else first, and Dao wants to save us and restore us to what we were.) "Discriminate just one tiny bit," suggests the Hsin-Hsin Ming, "and you have cut the world asunder." There is only this ordinary mind, and it is Dao. (Like that rock over there — lest we take "mind" as something special! What?! No Absolute Mind? More heresy.)

Yes, there is transcendence and transformation, but I would suggest it comes, not through rejection of the ordinary, but through its acceptance. The ordinary ordinary mind is Dao.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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