Monk protests: “But Master, yesterday you said that Mind is Buddha.”
Ma Tsu: “That was like offering yellow leaves to a child and telling him it is gold — just to stop his crying.”
Monk: “And what about when the child has stopped crying?”
Ma Tsu: “Then I say, Not Mind, Not Buddha, Not things!’
The Mind is the Buddha’ is like medicine. ‘No Mind, no Buddha’ is the cure for those who are sick because of the medicine.”
Ma Tsu’s teaching above is one effective method the Masters employ to tear away any lingering remnants of borrowed support, leaving the disciple with nothing to fall back on, no comforting religious consolation or conceptual crutch to cling to. The purpose is to fully plunge them into the Unknown, or “the Realm of the Real Dharma”, as Huang Po poetically calls it, beyond philosophies and partial realizations. It’s also why Ramana Maharshi said that the final truth consists of the fact that there is no path, nor any such thing as progress.
In other words, Reality is not some sort of attainment to be gained by a progression from state to state. There is no final, triumphant union to be attained, because there never was any separation from the no-beginning. There is simply the unfathomable expanse of spontaneous presence, pure unborn awareness, regardless of any intermittent mental content which might appear in that sphere of being. Recognizing the empty nature of both the dreaming as well as the dreamer is considered by the sages to be liberation, though paradoxically, there is nobody being freed or bound. There is simply awakening to that which has always been the case, even as we daydreamed.
This challenging realization forces the aspirant to let go of all gaining ideas, along with all the interpretive dualities of the intellect that represent fixation, reification, and solidification of perception, thus opening them to direct and immediate re-cognition of the prior freedom of the Real. And what is “the Real”? Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche pointed to its essential realization when he suggested:
“Leave alone whatever arise in the mind. Do not seek to change or alter anything. It is all perfect as it stands.”
Of course, such appealing notions as inherent perfection are easy for beginners and casual practitioners to misconstrue, especially when they hear that there is nothing that needs to be done, and no effort is necessary, because “enlightenment” is always already the case. However, if we do not want to fall into that trap, all we need do is take a good honest look in the mirror at our own character. Are we free, for example, from greed, envy, hatred, ignorance, and do we always live a life characterized by integrity and loving kindness? If not, then there is still work to do, even though, paradoxically, it is also true that there is nothing to be done.
If we rely on the verbal, conceptual mind to make sense of that seeming contradiction, we will just end up going this way one day, and that way the next, while getting nowhere in the process. That is why we practice, to go beyond conditional second-hand reason and logic programs, and recognize the truth that is always right here, staring us in the face. In that conscious process, we don’t need to point some accusatory finger at ourselves, or wring our hands in self-concern, but simply wise up to exactly who “that one” is that we have taken to be “me”. Who is this character believed to be either perfect, or in need of some serious adjustments?
Another good example of the paradox being considered here is the common phrase: “We must forgive ourselves first, and then forgive everyone else.” Of course, in this human drama, forgiveness is not only appropriate, but critically necessary for our relationships and personal happiness. If we carry around unresolved traumas, wounds, regrets, and resentments, we will always be fueling an internal conflict, and never achieve psychological healing and mature adaptation to the stage of balanced and un-contracted emotional adulthood.
On the other hand, from the point of view of the higher wisdoms, there is actually nothing and nobody that needs to be forgiven, since at the absolute level, all is indeed perfect just as it is, and without qualification. Moreover, even conceiving the existence of a self, some solid and enduring character that requires fixing or forgiving, can be an impediment to fully awakening to the truth of our prior nature, which has never required modification or remedial attention.
Echoing the previous comment from Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, another contemporary Dzogchen Master, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, puts it this way:
“From the very beginning everything, whatever appears and exits, has never been anything other than pure perfection. There has never been a single day, a single moment when everything was not complete purity, pure perfection. It’s not that everything has to be brought to a state of purity at some point, but rather that it always was and is.”
Indeed, the paradox of our prior freedom and inherent perfection is that we all may be perfect in the ultimate sense, and yet the eminent Zen Master Suzuki Roshi makes a pertinent comment in this regard: “You are all perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.” Certainly, if we were to spend some time reviewing the day’s headlines in the news, we might recognize that Suzuki was being rather kind and generous in his assessment. Moreover, if we examine our own life and relations, including our thoughts and behaviors, most of us might readily acknowledge that “a little improvement” would probably be comparable to taking the first few steps up Mt. Everest.
How then to explain this paradox? A good start would be to understand that we are both human animals, with all the positive as well as negative attributes that the human incarnational circumstance implies, and yet we are also immortal spirit, forever free, awake, and unconditionally loving. As light being souls, we choose to inhabit human creatures in order to experience the kinds of adventures and challenges characteristic of the human species. By testing ourselves to see “what we are really made of”, we thereby enhance our levels of self-awareness in our soul evolution.
We enter into the virtual reality of this 3-D realm in the same way one might engage a video game. The trick, however, is that we generally assume a kind of amnesia about our true nature for the duration of the game, in order to get the full impact of the experience. In doing so, we take the human identity to represent who and what we really are, and this (mistaken) identity is rarely questioned in the midst of the adventure. By fusing with the human bio-vehicle, we thus become subject to its complications, which include less than perfect qualities.
If we apply our innate soul power to improve the host, we will likely see the development of soul-like qualities, such as compassion and expanded consciousness. However, if we choose instead to not interfere, and just remain a detached witness to the human’s life, then the human will follow its animal course, which is often filled with violence and selfishness. Again, all we need do is review current world events, characterized as they are by blood lust, interminable conflict, blatant self-interest, and outrageous inequality, to recognize what kinds of choices are being made these days, in terms of efforts to effectively train the animals with which we are identifying.
There is more to this story, however. Ultimately, we are not only not the human animal, but we are not even the soul being. In reality, we are dream characters in the Mind of Source, being lived by Source in a drama of unfathomable love. It is unfathomable, because it is beyond the human capacity to comprehend, and so is typically misunderstood and misrepresented by the religions that humans have created to provide explanations for the Mystery.
Source wants to explore Itself, in much the same way we want to explore our own breadth and depth by incarnating as humans, for example, among the countless possibilities we may and do choose. Thus, in our role as immortal souls, we afford Source the perfect vehicles for such exploration, and as such, we are in a sense co-creators of a movie entitled “Infinity”.
In any case, as dream characters, there is nothing in need of forgiveness or improvement. Just as we are, with all our seeming faults and foibles, we are perfectly fulfilling Source’s desire to know Itself, in all the possible permutations of Itself which It can manifest. Source does not need to improve or forgive us, any more than we need to enter back into last night’s dream to improve or forgive our own dream characters, once we have awoken. It was, after all, a dream. There is no judgment, no blame or punishment — only a thirst for experience, in whatever way it might happen to present itself, or in whatever form it might happen to manifest, as we enter into the compelling illusion of time and space as shards of Source’s own divine light, playing our parts perfectly.