Zen Master Dae Kwang
The monk Damei Fachang once asked Mazu Daoyi, “What is Buddha?”
Mazu replied, “Mind is Buddha.”
Zen mind is just another name for our original Buddha nature. Buddha nature has many names. In the sutras it says that there are 36,000,119,500 names for Buddha and they are all the same! When I first encountered Buddhism in the United States, one of the most popular books about Zen was Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. I don’t remember much about the book, but the title is quite striking. During its history Buddhism has used many terms to talk about our Buddha nature: nirvana, pure land, original nature, true nature, mind . . . many, many names. Mazu’s student, Nanquan Puyuan, even called it “everyday mind.” The intent of these terms is not to define, but rather to point us toward a direct experience of what we really are. In the above example our Buddha nature is likened to a “beginner”: it doesn’t have any predetermined idea about how things are or how they should proceed. It’s not attached.
Buddha taught that the reason we suffer is because we don’t know what we really are—we’re ignorant of our true nature (another name for Zen mind). We are attached to our thinking. If we can just let go of our mistaken idea then we can return to what we already were, our Buddha nature. The Sixth Patriarch got enlightenment when he heard just one line from the Diamond Sutra: “When thinking arises in your mind, don’t attach to it.”
Our original Buddha nature is not a thing, so applying a term to “it” can just increase the problem. People can easily become attached, even to the term that is designed to free them. However, we do have to talk about “it” if we are going to help the world. Buddha talked about it a lot,—that’s where the sutras come from. Their purpose is not explanation. Their job is to point us toward what we truly are. That’s why Zen is known for its iconoclasm. It wants to remove every idea, even a good Zen idea, so you can have an authentic experience.
A monk once asked Mazu, “What is Buddha?”
Mazu answered, “No mind, no Buddha.”
Here is a kong-an for you: Bodhidharma sat facing a wall. The Second Patriarch, standing in snow, cut off his arm and, handing it to Bodhidharma, said, “My mind cannot rest. Please, teacher, rest my mind!”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind and I will put it to rest.”
The Second Patriarch said, “I cannot find my mind.”
“There,” said Bodhidharma, “I have already given your mind rest!”
So, the question is: What is rest mind? If you want to attain that you have to do what Zen Master Seung Sahn said: “Throw your mind in the trash can!”