Relative and Absolute
“Mind is like the void in which there is no confusion or evil, as when the sun wheels through it shining upon the four corners of the world. For, when the sun rises and illuminates the whole earth, the void gains not in brilliance; and, when the sun sets, the void does not darken. The phenomena of light and dark alternate with each other, but the nature of the void remains unchanged. So it is with the Mind of the Buddha and of sentient beings. If you look upon the Buddha as presenting a pure, bright or Enlightened appearance, or upon sentient beings as presenting a foul, dark or mortal-seeming appearance, these conceptions resulting from attachment to form will keep you from supreme knowledge, even after the passing of many eons as there are sands in the Ganges. There is only the one Mind and not a particle of anything else on which to lay hold, for this Mind is the Buddha. If you students of the Way do not awake to this Mind substance, you will overlay Mind with conceptual thought, you will seek the Buddha outside yourselves, and you will remain attached to forms, pious practices and so on, all of which are harmful and not at all the way to supreme knowledge.” (The Zen teaching of Huang Po)
Commentary by Gendo
I regard ‘fullness of mind’ as the big picture of what is involved in this activity called “consciousness,” the activity of mind. I often talk about how Zen analizes consciousness; and concludes that every act of conscious awareness involves a dualism, an act of discrimination, contrasting one thing with another. Like the contrast of light and dark Huangpo refers to in our text. Like pure and foul. Like any duality we might generalize as ‘plus’ and ‘minus’. We know plus in contrast to minus, and viceversa. What from the viewpoint of Huangpo’s void, or outer space, is seen as a dynamic whole, earthlings divide into day and night. And the one who arises between those two, and discriminates one from the other according to its preferences, is the self.
In this fashion, Zen theorizes that the activity of discriminating consciousness is the activity where ‘one’ breaks apart and becomes ‘three:’ plus, minus, and self. The analogy is to birth, to the union of a man and a woman, and the birth of the child, the self, that stands between them, and regards them apart from itself, and apart from each other. But this is an incomplete perspective; or what in Buddhism is decribed as “relative truth.” As a matter of experience, we know the incompleteness of that perspective. We have a sense that it is not the whole truth. Like coming away from a really great movie, where you have lost yourself in the plot and characters, and, for a moment, you are living that world, and don’t even want to talk about it, because to talk about it feels like you have left it.
Huangpo points out that the big picture is day and night together, one dynamic activity, without separation. Purity and foulness are like this. Plus and minus are like this. All dualities are like this. When separation between them disappears, when object consciousness disappears, the self that discriminates one from the other disappears. The big picture is light and dark, pure and foul, plus and minus, together in one dynamic activity, free of a separate self and its preferences. This is the state in which three (father, mother and self) become one family; an experience Buddhism describes as an “absolute truth;” an experience of ”blowing out,” like blowing out a candle, the blowing out of the candle of separate identity. The ancient Sanskrit word for that blowing out is “nirvana.”
But even this absolute truth is not a fixed thing. The separate self disappears into the wholeness of the family, but soon a new self identity is born: my family as opposed to other families; my town versus other towns, my school versus other schools, my country versus other countries, my ethnic group versus others, my Buddhism versus your cellphone app. Over and over again, three becomes one, one becomes three.
Yet there is progression. We call it maturity; the maturity to rediscover the absolute within the relative over and over again with each expanding dimension of life. Sasaki Roshi said it this way: “The way the child first appears is to receive both plus and minus in equal amounts. But what will this born child eat? Just to say it simply and perhaps extremely, mother and father are what the child eats inorder to grow.”
All relativity, rests in one absolute; the absolute we are born with, before any notion of a self has formed, the absolute we return to in the moment of our death, the absolute, the nirvana, inherent in every moment of conceptual thought, in the attachment to forms. In Huang Po’s words, even the distinction between “enlightened appearance,” and “foul mortal-seeming appearance” is to be let go of. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, says the Heart Sutra Three is one and one is three.
If we are going to find peace in the world, if we are going to get along with people who are different from us, we need to pay attention, awaken to “one mind.” If we are to find trust in ourselves, trust in the wisdom of ‘one mind,’ we need to know that wisdom for ourselves. This is practice.
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