To practice is to start from our perception. Perception is the most important concept. Perception is a certain way of seeing things, a way of thinking, and it is also the basis for behavior. Where someone will go, what he will do, situations and people he will bump into, the occurrence of phenomena, all happen one step at a time. What genuinely supports the development of phenomena is our perception. This physical body is being moved, our environment is being created, and results are being created. Why do you create this result and this kind of phenomena? Basically, it is due to our perception.
One person’s views, ideas, knowing or not knowing, all come from the mind. We as people tend to think we are able to see clearly. However, this is only the part we know. Other than the part we know, there are a lot of thoughts we have that we don’t know about, unconsciously within our mind. The thinking patterns within our mind, we call this our perception.
Perception is not on the surface level. It is not I think this or I see that. This kind of perception is considered surface level. Perception is not limited to a certain viewpoint. Right or wrong depends on different viewpoints. For example, is a democratic system better or an older monarchy system better? Some people think a monarchy system is better; some people think a democratic system is better. Everyone has different concepts and ideas. This is a more surface level of ideas, but to understand on a deeper level, you must ask “why do I have this kind of idea?”
Your ideas are just the surface level thinking patterns within your mind; inside the mind there are much deeper thinking patterns. It is not just as you imagine. When something happens in our society, you may think it is right or wrong, but it is actually not that simple. When you think something is wrong, there is a very deep and thick foundation behind this idea, which is based on your perception. This is your thinking pattern; this is your thinking model.
Some people say, “The mind creates everything.” You want to become rich, but why do you still have no money? This is because you only have one thought, two thoughts, three thoughts, even if you want to be rich, this is just one idea. Due to habitual thinking patterns, there is no way to let your mind implement these thoughts and present rich phenomena. Also this thought “I want to be rich” is not necessarily a foundation that can really let your mind function.
Everyone possesses a mind. Everyone’s mind has the same ability. If we compare the ability of Buddha’s mind and the ability of our mind, the features are all the same. Buddha’s mind functions exactly the same as ours. The only difference is Buddha’s mind is very calm; our mind is filled with habitual thinking patterns and perceptions. So Buddha uses the original function, nature, and characteristics of his own mind; through function without attachments and manifests pure land with corresponding results and phenomena.
Our mind is also capable of everything, but our mind is polluted, our thinking pattern is not clear enough due to attachments. Even though we all have the same mind capacity, everyone has a different type of thinking pattern, which naturally creates different functions and results. Ordinary people function with an extra layer of interference, an extra layer of dust. And so we do not function clearly, and instead we do things in our own individual way due to our habitual thinking patterns. Thus, our mind functions mainly through our attachments and perceptions; in Buddhism this is called “consciousness.” Our mind is not calm, still has attachments, a polluted capacity, separate subject and object, inside and outside. By functioning through this state, our mind can only actually function through our habitual thinking patterns, which we have had for a very long time.
For example, you are sick right now. The state of being sick is just a phenomenon that has been created by habitual thinking patterns within our mind. To create this state of sickness takes a very long time. If we try to generate correct thoughts like “I am healthy,” why aren’t we healthy? It is because this thought does not come directly from our pure mind, our mind that has limitless ability. It is just a thought or idea. You are not able to make this thought a truly ingrained thought, part of your thinking pattern, which can then be used by the mind to manifest accordingly.
To put it more simply, this mind’s ability to create phenomena does not depend on a few thoughts. The infinite energy of the mind is manifested through your habitual thinking patterns. A few thoughts cannot change anything. You are a Water Supply company that needs to send water to different places and so you must have a lot of pipelines. Your current thought is not even the particles for the plastic pipe, how can water possibly be sent outward? It is impossible.
We must understand this principle. If we don’t understand this principle, we don’t realize it is useless to try to will ourselves to be healthy with mere surface level thoughts. Your mind is not able to use these thoughts to manifest anything remotely related to the result you want. This will take some time. So if we refer to our sickness or status, to be a little more practical, we can say phenomena takes a long time to manifest, we’ve already been sick for a long time due to our rigid thinking pattern. Thus, the problem cannot be solved in a short period of time. Certain parts of a problem that has manifested can be solved quickly, but this depends on the individual. Right now, I am telling you generally what happens.
Therefore, everyone’s mind has the same ability, which is the same as Buddha’s or bodhisattvas’. However everyone’s habitual thinking pattern is completely different. These habitual thinking patterns are like water pipelines. Since everyone’s mind is different, we all function in completely different ways.
All your habitual thinking patterns really combine to form your perception. This perception is not some surface thinking of right or wrong. What pushes you to think right or wrong is based on your habitual thinking pattern that makes you function in a certain direction. We must understand, to some extent this is the force of karma. What makes you think a certain way is the force of your karma, because your thinking pattern is a kind of habit. This habit has a force over you that makes you have to think a certain way. Once a habit, it will become natural, and you will naturally think a certain way.
In our mind, we already have many habits that force us to think a certain way, so when something happens, these habits function automatically, all of which is beyond our control. We are still not aware we have such a problem. So first we must understand when our mind creates a thought. This function arises from the mind. Some people think they understand this principle. They know when we generate a thought to smile, our face smiles; when we generate a thought to cry, our face won’t look so good. All functions arise from the mind, this they also understand. But when it comes to personal disputes or car accidents, phenomena outside of our body, they can’t understand why it happens. These things are all still created from the mind.
From an energy standpoint, energy cannot be divided. Your physical body is energy too. So why do you separate your physical body from the rest of phenomena? This is your karmic force. A clear mind has an established function. When you allow your mind to generate thoughts in a certain direction, the phenomena will manifest in a similar manner. Also, you put yourself in this position, so everything we see or hear is the whole manifested by the mind.
Our thoughts and physical body are just a small part of the whole the mind manifests. We alone are able to create our own thoughts and relationships. Thus, you cannot just isolate the physical body as you forget about everything else. The physical body is just a small part of a whole manifested by your mind. It cannot be separated from the whole. And so your thoughts and the inner workings of your mind will attract corresponding karma. We must slowly begin to understand our own thoughts, because every cause and effect corresponds to the thoughts we create.
Most people think anything outside of the physical body has nothing to do with me. Yet everything is manifested from the mind. It seems like they can understand this concept. They understand when a thought is generated, the body will have feelings. However, this is just a small part of the concept; the mind manifests everything. From emptiness, the mind can manifest all phenomena including your thoughts and your physical body. And when your body is manifested that’s where you see phenomena and corresponding results.
Most people only know that our thoughts and physical body are ours, but how does the body manifest in this place? This is still our own doing. This is our mind’s capacity, which is very large. We must slowly begin to realize that our mind can manifest everything. It is hard for most people to understand this concept because we have very strong attachments toward our physical body and strongly believe we are individuals. Thus, in Zen we must first learn to put down “I” and let go of our attachment to our physical body. Then will be able to understand that the mind contains all space and manifest everything.
What we recognize as “I” is always just a small part of a much bigger “I”. We always separate our thoughts and physical body from the rest of the world. This is a big mistake. We must first simply perceive that the mind manifests everything. If we do not understand this concept, then it will be difficult to fix any problems you may have. Our perception is our tool. In life, if we do not have the right view, we do not have the right tools available to end our problems.
Let the mind’s original emptiness manifest, for your mind must be clear and empty. Everybody has this mind that is formless. You must allow this formless mind to manifest, and do not make inside or outside, subject or object. If you can’t do this, then you can’t escape from phenomena. This means you can’t get rid of your attachment to phenomena, and you will be stuck in reincarnation. Only when the mind is clear and empty can there be liberation and nirvana. So nirvana means there must be an escape route from the material world. However, when the mind has attachments there is no escape.
When we have attachments, mind is not empty. Without manifesting the emptiness of mind, we will mistakenly think that we have something, the mind holds onto something, which slowly accumulates and becomes hard to get rid of. If we are unable to manifest a mind that is pure and empty through our Zen practice, then there is no escape route for all of our problems, negative energy and phenomena. This will be a very difficult situation to deal with. If there is no escape, then the negative energy will continuously accumulate and follow us, changing from one moment to the next, from one lifetime to the next. All of this never-ending hardship occurs because we are not able to manifest the pure emptiness of mind.
If your mind is pure emptiness, it is like a black hole; if your mind is holding something, it is like a white hole. When your mind generates a function, everything manifests, and a white hole appears. Yet when something appears it also disappears simultaneously, returning back to emptiness, a black hole. This mind has two sides to it. One side is everything, a white hole; one side is emptiness, a black hole. Pure emptiness is not just the removal or absence of things, for it is also an escape route. The moment the mind returns to a state of emptiness, all phenomena forms and also disappears back to our intrinsic nature, which is emptiness. This simultaneous appearing and disappearing is liberation, and the realm of nirvana.
The secret to life is that our mind is originally pure emptiness. When the mind functions phenomena appear and simultaneously return back to emptiness. To realize this, first we must not differentiate between inside and outside. There is no my body or my thoughts; there is no outside world or environment. If you differentiate this way, phenomena cannot be removed and return to emptiness.
If you want to practice Zen then you must understand this concept. Everybody’s mind is pure emptiness and has the same ability, essence, and intrinsic nature. When the mind manifests phenomena, we should accept the corresponding energy. The mind functions from moment to moment, and is very active; the mind is able to manifest everything, all phenomena. Yet phenomena simultaneously appear and disappear. This is how everybody’s life presents and develops from moment to moment. To perceive life this way is the right view.
Why do we need to attain nirvana? Why do we need to attain true liberation? The reason is simply because your mind is originally pure emptiness. When the whole of phenomena appears it simultaneously disappears. Our thoughts and physical body are just a small part of the whole that the mind manifests; we cannot separate ourselves from the whole for this is dualistic thinking. Our mind uses the same ability to generate thoughts, our physical body, and everything else; this energy cannot be separated.
First, understand that every person’s mind functions the same exact way, and manifests everything the same way. Then from this concept, we can understand how to fix our problems. To get rid of the ego is not just for Zen practitioners but for everyone. We must understand that life is supposed to function this way, and phenomena come and go this way.
However, most people use their mind to create phenomena, and then attach to certain phenomena, like our thoughts and physical body. We think “I” have this body and “I” have these thoughts, and everything else is outside phenomena. If we think this way, we are deluded and trapped by our small “I” with no escape. We don’t realize that our mind creates everything, and that everything we see is part of us. Without the right view, we are unable to return all phenomena to pure emptiness. So in Buddhism, when we say a person is deluded, it means that they think their physical body and thoughts are “I” and they don’t understand their pure mind.
Thus, Zen Masters used to say, “if a person is not enlightened, they are too attached to form.” People are too attached to phenomena so they cannot see the meaning behind the phenomena. So from past to present to future, in this human realm, and in all realms, all functions have rules to follow according to the mind’s intrinsic nature. The function, characteristics, and nature of your mind determine how your mind will operate; the mind cannot go against its function and nature.
So first we must understand the mind is pure emptiness, there is no “I”. The real “I” is this pure mind. This mind is formless, and yet it can manifest all phenomena. Among all the phenomena, your physical body and thoughts are just a very small part of the whole. The pure mind does not separate one or two; the mind is just one. And so wherever we go, everything is a whole. This is the right perception. We must slowly practice with this perception in mind.
If you do not understand this concept, then you do not know why you must attain nirvana or true liberation. To attain nirvana or true liberation means to manifest the pure empty nature of the mind, the selfless nature of the mind, the mind’s intrinsic nature. The pure mind is the creator, the source of everything; all phenomena from the past, present, and future are functions of this mind. When the mind functions differently, the manifestation of phenomena differs as well. If we want to change our situation, we must understand that the mind has this ability, this intrinsic nature, and practice diligently from this direction. Otherwise, we will encounter similar situations over and over, and be stuck in an endless cycle.
A person’s thinking pattern and perceptions are like a fast river that sweeps us away into the unknown. When a person identifies their body and thoughts as their own, it is similar to being swept away by this thinking river within the mind, or swept away by a karmic river. When the mind manifests phenomena through this river, we will only be able to see phenomena that we habitually encounter due to our karma. It is difficult to change when we identify our body and thoughts as our own.
Our habits, perceptions, and streams of consciousness are like a very fast river that sweeps us away. When we think our body is mine, it is like putting a canoe in this river, and trying to row the boat. The person thinks he or she can row very far, and has lots of plans for the future, taking left and right turns. However, no matter how far right or left this canoe gets, it cannot go beyond this river of karma. People make lots of plans, however these plans are all very superficial. It is like an ant standing on a leaf. The ant can move a little, run this way or that way, but the ant doesn’t realize this leaf is floating in water, so no matter how much he is able to move he can never go beyond this river.
Our habitual thinking patterns are just like this swift river. Unless you are able to truly recognize this and really improve and change your ways, otherwise a person thinking he can do something is nothing more than running around on a leaf like an ant. On this leaf you can build a house, do business, work hard, create more karma for yourself, but you still can’t leave this karmic river. In the end it seems you cannot attain anything, only more karma.
This shows our limitations, for we did not take a closer look at this karmic river, and we did not take care of what really matters. Thus, we will encounter many bad situations. The flow of this river is like a focused outflow of energy from the limitless pure mind. This physical body is always just a small part of this output of energy. Where do you think you can go? Do you think the body can separate from the middle of this large output of energy? No, it cannot.
Every single moment phenomena arise from the flow of our thoughts and the strength of our karma. The mind manifests phenomena from this focused outflow of energy. Thus, your thinking pattern determines what kind of person you are, and you can only go in that direction. What kind of person you are determines what kind of situations you will inevitably encounter. We must see from this point of view, not from our body’s point of view, which is only a very small part of the whole.
The important point is the mind is pure emptiness, the mind has unlimited ability and energy. However, we have limits due to our habitual thinking pattern, which sweeps us away in the direction of our karmic river. When this occurs, your body will be so, your thoughts will be so, and environment and the situations you encounter will be so. When the river flows, the canoe will move accordingly, the person on the canoe will also move accordingly. Most people do not understand this concept, and desperately plan for the future. How can you possibly plan? If you don’t even know what will happen in the future, how can you possibly plan ahead? That’s why when people make plans, most are made in vain, because we do not understand what is going on, how life changes and comes into being. So how can they plan? How can they practice?
First we must understand that our ideas and concepts are too small and too limited; there is no way for us to see the whole picture. Thus, we limit ourselves and we remain stuck on a canoe. Many people think that their life is going very well, and they have the freedom to make their own decisions. However, if the unlimited ability of your pure mind functions through your habitual thinking patterns, your attachments, and your karma, you become very small and confined to your physical body and thoughts. How can you plan this way? Where can you possibly go?
Your life has already been predetermined. The things you can plan are very limited, like deciding whether to go left or right paddling a canoe. It is very difficult to change things if you don’t understand what causes all phenomena to be manifested. This karmic river is manifested by the mind, this body is manifested by the mind, this canoe and the person on the canoe are all manifested from the mind. You separate the canoe from the water, so there is no way to change.
When practicing Zen, we must be open-minded and make our mind capacity very big. The more we open up our mind, the more we can see our own problems and get rid of them. If we cannot be open-minded enough then we cannot see what our problems are, and there is no way to solve our problems. To really solve problems, we cannot be the person on the canoe making plans where to go on a swift river. You don’t even know what’s going on while you are in the middle of this swift river, or what direction you will be swept. Thus, our habitual thinking pattern is like this swift river. You don’t know which direction it will take you. And so in Buddhism, the people you will inevitably meet and where you are corresponds to your karma.
For example, you already are a certain kind of person with a certain kind of karma leading to a corresponding result. This result sweeps you away in a certain direction in accordance to the thinking patterns you’ve already established. So which direction you are swept off to is inevitable, unless you can be maintain awareness and change your habitual thinking patterns. Otherwise you think you can do anything but really you are living unconsciously with no awareness of what is going on.