Realizing the Phenomenon, Realizing the Mind

January 8, 2013

 I. Our Mind Creates Phenomena

Occasionally, a student asks what it means to realize one’s mind. This is a very good question.  First, we should ask ourselves what keeps us alive.  The ability or function that keeps us alive can develop different routes–call them styles–for one’s life.    Actually, it is not the matter of the style that we are living. Instead, it is the matter of what keeps us alive.  We should realize this, since it is very important.  However, if we do not know what keeps us alive, how can we develop the style of living we want?  Every single moment we have breaths and thoughts, and the mind. Because of the mind, it makes each of us a living being.  As a human being, first we should realize what the mind is.

The mind creates your thoughts; the mind reacts to your thoughts and actions; the mind reflects the thoughts it is generating and manifests the thoughts according to the rule of cause and effect.  We should understand and be aware of what the mind is.  The mind creates phenomena.  All the goals or principles in the life of a human being are forms.  They are simply phenomena created by the mind.  In a Christian faith such as Catholicism, God creates the phenomena for us as human beings.  So, the purpose of our life is to realize what makes us living beings; to realize what makes us alive.  Every style of living consists of the phenomena created by one’s mind.  Most practitioners, as human beings, only focus on the phenomena as a means to discern their purpose in life.

We are all pursuing those phenomena right now.  We set a goal, such as, “I want to become rich,” or “I want to become enlightened.”  The route through which we pursue the goal we have set is also the one by which we pursue the phenomena created by the mind.  Somehow, we are deeply involved with phenomena.  We set a phenomenon as our goal, and then we call it the meaning of our life or the purpose of our life.  The phenomenon is therefore subject to the principle of impermanence.  We have already set forth the meaning of our life, or the goal.  In order to achieve that goal, we give it our best efforts.  When we do our best, we tell people, “I am pursuing my dream for the future, and I am accomplishing my goal now.”  We also tell people, “This is the meaning of my life–the pursuit of my chosen goal.”  Most people think this way: pursuing their goals and pursuing their dreams.  We think this is the meaning of our life.

When you were a child, a teacher probably asked you, “What do you want to do in the future, when you grow up?”  You probably replied, “I want to be a scientist, a doctor, a rich person, a famous person, own a big house or a castle, become an actor or actress, or become the President of the United States.”  The goal is already there: the person we want to be and the goal we try to reach.  They have been there since we were kids.

Right now, we are on the way in pursuit of those goals.  This is the reality.  We try to accomplish our dreams, and that effort is the meaning of our life.  Our goal is to be a scientist, a rich person or a famous person; it is our dream, or the meaning of our life.  Without the goal or identity like that of a rich-and-famous person, our life has no meaning.  Is that not so?  If I tell kids that they are not going to be rich people, scientists, actors or presidents, and that instead they are going to be nobodies, will they lose their motivation in life?

So, “yes” is answer to the question of whether one can achieve his dream.  Otherwise, the person will totally lose the meaning of his life.  If we drop all the goals, we will not know where to go.  We will not know the meaning of our life.  In the meantime, when we set the goal of being a famous person, president, scientist, doctor, nurse, or fireman, no matter what, are we pursuing the phenomenon?  Yes, we are.  A rich person is a phenomenon, the president is a phenomenon, and an actor is a phenomenon.  We try to accomplish our goals, but actually we are accomplishing the phenomenon.  When someone accomplishes his dream, his goal or the meaning of his life, he is pursuing phenomena.  Is that not so?  I think that the answer is “Yes.”

II. The Characteristics of Phenomena: Impermanent, Temporary and Changeable

Thus we have the question of how one pursues a goal without pursuing a phenomenon. In other words, we wonder:  “Without pursuing phenomena, what can we do as human beings?  There is no goal for us anymore, because there is no target for us to pursue, so we lose purpose.   ”  Being a practitioner has nothing to do with destroying or eradicating the phenomenon.  One way or the other, we should understand what the phenomenon means.  This is much more important.  As practitioners, we are not trying to destroy or eradicate the phenomenon, because phenomena come and go.

We should therefore realize what the phenomenon means before we set the goal or pursue the meaning of our life.  How are the phenomena formed?  What are the characteristics of phenomena or forms?  The scientist, following his pursuit of that goal, ultimately disappears.  He will pass away, and all his articles will disintegrate in time and space.  In the meantime, as we pursue the goal of becoming a scientist or the president, we pursue the habits or worries of a scientist or a president.  We also pursue something that will be destroyed by time and space.  As human beings, somehow our goal–the meaning of our life, the goal we are pursuing or what we have set forth as the meaning of our life–will disappear or be destroyed by time and space.  If so, after the goal disappears we will try to pursue another one.  Is that not the case?  Yes, it is.  Somehow, we go through life in pursuit of something that will one day disappear.

Could one say that the pursuit of phenomenon is temporary or superficial, just as phenomena are?  As practitioners, we try to uplift ourselves.  But, after uplifting ourselves, what will the world be like?  Does this world have no more phenomena?  The answer is, “No.”  The phenomenon remains.  This is why I mention that we pursue the phenomenon as a goal of our life.  Before we set a goal, we need to realize the rule of impermanence, or the characteristics of the phenomenon.

Ask ourselves four questions:  How is it that the phenomenon is there?  What type of phenomenon is there?  How can we make it happen?  If we do not realize the characteristic of the phenomenon, how can we make it happen?  As practitioners, we are not trying to destroy or eradicate the phenomena, , because the phenomenon is manifested by the mind.  The phenomenon always goes with you.  The phenomenon is the reality, and the phenomenon is manifested by the mind.  If you try to destroy the phenomenon, it means you are trying to destroy your mind.  This is not right. As a practitioner, one tries to elevate himself, uplift himself and purify the mind.  After we do this, our mind will have more ability and capability to create and manifest a better phenomenon for ourselves.  In this way, we can pursue our goal without side effects.  It is because we realize that the phenomenon is passive and created by the mind.

If there is no phenomenon, there is no life.  The phenomenon is impermanent.  Remember, without phenomena there is no life. Life must come with phenomena.

Many practitioners misunderstand the concept.  They assume that they must get rid of all relationships; that they must get rid of everything in the mundane world.  They think this is a mundane world.  Then they try to uplift themselves.  After years and years of trying, they find that they never can leave the phenomena.  The phenomenon always comes with the mind.  If there is no phenomenon, there is no life.  If there is no phenomenon, there is no mind.  It is very important to understand this.

First, realize that the phenomenon is created and manifested by the mind.  I do not mean to say we don’t need to have a goal or a dream. I do not mean that we should not pursue our goals and dreams.  However, we should realize the characteristics of the phenomenon and goal.  Then, after we accomplish our dream or achieve our goal, there will be no side effect for us.  On one hand, we can reach the goal and enjoy it; and on the other hand we have no side effect.  Otherwise, if we do not realize that phenomena are created by the mind, eventually you will feel very disappointed because you are pursuing something that is empty.  You are not pursuing something, but instead you are pursuing a void because of impermanence.

You need to realize that phenomena are created by the mind, and every single person possesses a mind.  Phenomena are created.  This is a very important point.   Once you realize that you possess the mind–that the mind can generate, create and manifest the phenomenon–you can have your goal and more fully realize the meaning of your life.  Otherwise, you pursue something that will ultimately be destroyed by time and space.  For example, when you studied in elementary school, you did so in the hope of attending a good high school.  Then, as you neared the end of your high school studies, you wanted to apply to a well known college or university.  This is the goal.  The goal is similar to the meaning of life.  After you graduated from the college or university, what was left?  So, we continue the pursuit of goals, one after another, but each goal is created by the mind.  In this case, it means that everything we pursue in life–such as elementary school, high school and college–is impermanent, ultimately with nothing left.

As a human being, if you do not realize the mind and what the meaning of your life is, you will not understand the process.  You just repeat the process over and over again, lifetime after lifetime.  It is one in which we achieve a goal and then the goal disappears; we then achieving another goal and then that goal disappears.  How many goals have we set, and how many have we achieved?  Do you think your life is becoming much better?  Some goals are probably helpful, but some are not.  Therefore, it is very important to realize the characteristics of phenomena.  They are impermanent, changeable and temporary.

A student came to me after he had studied the sutra.  He said all phenomena are illusions and therefore subject to impermanence.  He said they are not real.   I asked the student that if, in this world, one cannot find one real thing except the fake phenomenon,  “isn’t the fake one real?”  Some practitioners misunderstand, and as a result they try to get rid of phenomena.  This is not what the Buddha told us.  One way or another, we try to make phenomena better and create a better phenomenon for ourselves.  It is because we live with phenomena.  The thought, the physical body and the relationship are all phenomena.  Without phenomena, there is no life or relationship.  Without phenomena, there is nothing.  So, we must live with better phenomena.  This is the meaning of life.  But, how can you make it so?  How is that possible?  Remember, phenomena are created, and we have the ability to create them.  Each of us possesses a mind, and it creates phenomena.  In the meantime, as we pursue our goal, it is a process through which our mind creates phenomenon for us.

A mind is like a big machine. We need to keep the machine in good shape. Otherwise, we can only create and produce defective products.

III. Open the Mind, Open the Realm: Better Mind, Better Phenomena; Better Phenomena, Better Mind

If you cannot put down your self-attachment and lift yourself up from the bottom of your mind, you will never change your life.  If you cannot change the basis of thinking in your mind, you will remain the same.  The better the phenomenon is, the better the mind is.  The better the mind is, the better the phenomenon will be.

If our life has been tied down by phenomena, such as relationship troubles or certain situations, we are already tied down by the thinking pattern in mind.  We do not know how to open the realm, and consequently our practice has nothing to do with getting rid of phenomena.  As a real practitioner, you should be able to open the realm.  Before you try to open the realm, open your mind.   Open your mind first, and then you will be able to open the realm.  Once you have opened the realm, you can create a better phenomenon.

Of course, we need to live with phenomena.  Thoughts are phenomena.  Can you live without thoughts?  That is impossible.  Can you live without your physical body?  That is impossible, too.  Can you live without relationships?  No, they are essential.  This is why we have an obligation to uplift ourselves in order to live better.  Many practitioners think they are focused on the mind, but they have failed to realize what the mind is. Phenomena are like prints made by the mind.  Realize the mind through the form.  As everyday people, we should at least know this concept.  Many practitioners ignore the phenomena, so they can never learn from them.

Phenomena are like prints made by the mind.  Realize the mind through the form.  As everyday people, we should at least know this concept.  Many practitioners ignore the phenomena, so they can never learn from them.  Some try to get rid of phenomena and tell other practitioners, “I don’t care about phenomena.  I can practice well, and my practice is very good.”  Such people are trying to walk blindly, pretending they can do so.  This is not right.  This is not the meaning of practice.

Phenomena are prints of our mind.  The better the mind is, the better the phenomena are; the better the phenomena are, the better the mind will be.  This is the principle.  If you can follow, understand and realize this principle, you will have a better life.  Once you realize this, you can set any goal you like without a side effect.  You will know how to live with happiness, how to live in joy and how to enjoy life.  Otherwise, it will be as if you are trying to walk with your eyes covered.