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No-thought and the Mirror Mind

No-thought and the Mirror Mind
A natural, healthy mind free of fixations is like a mirror. Nothing is present in a mirror before a reflected object appears, and nothing remains after the object departs. The object adds nothing to it when it arrives, and subtracts nothing from it when it goes away. No matter what the object is, it leaves the mirror neither cleaner nor dirtier. The immediate perception of the “direct mind” is similar to this. Consciousness functions in this way only when it is in a state of true awareness, open to its own inner truth.
The mind in this state is free of the compulsion to think, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t think. People often misunderstand this point. To simply shut down the thinking process is a kind of mental blackout. Students occasionally come to me saying, “I’m not thinking!” This is fine if the mind has naturally come to rest in stillness, but if the thought process has simply been suppressed this represents no more than a blanking out of the self and extinguishing of the light of consciousness. This is of no use in everyday life.
It is possible, of course, to stop ordinary thinking through intense concentration practices while one is sitting, like a tightrope walker who focuses solely on what he’s doing during the time he’s on the rope but returns to his ordinary way of thinking once the act is finished. Zen practice of this type is false, leading to a kind of split life where the mind is silenced during zazen and allowed to wander the rest of the time. The two aspects of life end up unrelated, with the practice not functioning away from the confines of the meditation hall.
Zazen is not a concentrated suppression of thought but rather an awareness so open that does not get caught up in ideas and has no need to think when thinking is unnecessary. In its natural state consciousness is a flowing thing that, like water, goes bad when it stagnates. Analytical thinking may be necessary when considering something from an academic point of view, but in everyday life it generally gets in the way.
Rather than attempt to suppress the mind’s ordinary habit of thinking, the thinking habit must be redirected so that the mind no longer chases after the mental activity that naturally wells up out of the consciousness. As Zen master Linji says, “Don’t continue [thoughts] that have already arisen and don’t let those that haven’t yet arisen be aroused. Just this will be worth far more to you than a ten years’ pilgrimage.” When you see something, just see it and leave it at that. When you hear something, just hear it and leave it at that. Don’t follow after it. Thus when you see a flower, for an instant you perceive it directly, without meditation. You recognize it as a flower, but you don’t add thoughts and opinions to this perception.
An accomplished practitioner can be present in this state any time, but in those for whom the habit of thinking is strong it usually requires long training to redirect it. If the right motivation is there, however, the effort is never wasted. When consciousness is not blocked the mind gradually opens to direct perception. Direct perception is not some kind of mystical ability, but simply the original function of consciousness. Consciousness in its natural state perceives, not through the filters of thought or analysis, but immediately (that is, without mediation), like a mirror reflecting an image. If there’s a flower there’s a flower, just that. If a bird sings a bird sings, just that. If it rains it rains, just that. If the sky clears the sky clears, just that. Nothing need be added. In our everyday existence the need for social relations and other interactions arises, of course, but direct perception is at the foundation. Zazen is the cultivation of the ability to abide and function in this natural state.
Consciousness cannot be described, of course, as it has no form, yet it extends to the ends of the universe. In the words of Linji, “Mind is without form and pervades the ten directions.” Our consciousness reaches to whatever it can perceive, even the young galaxies at the edge of the cosmos that modern science now allows us to see. Because consciousness is in essence empty, if we see a star the star appears in our consciousness; if we see the sun the sun appears in our consciousness; if we see a mountain the mountain appears in our consciousness. It is the nature of mind to freely leave and enter the five sense-gates, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching everything in existence and taking in all things just as they are. With the least bit of divisive thought, however, this freely flowing activity is lost. This is the weak point of our way of life in today’s world. Keeping the mirror of our minds free from unnecessary concerns, we must remain open to the direct perception of the world just as it is. This is why we practice zazen.
We are in closest touch with our consciousness in its pure state immediately after sesshin, which is why I always stress to trainees the importance remaining open and aware during this crucial period. Be careful about avoiding distracting thoughts and, even if only for two or three days, take time to interact leisurely with nature, perceiving things as directly as possible. Observe too the workings of your own mind. The true meaning of sesshin lies in this time, when we are most able to take in the world just as it is, free of discriminating thoughts and ideation. In so doing we realize that direct perception expresses the essential nature of mind, and become clearer about how everyday life should be lived.
This is not to say that knowledge and experience should be dismissed, but only that they should not restrict us. We should rely primarily on direct perception, and with that as a basis our knowledge and experience become truly meaningful. Reversing this order transforms knowledge and experience into biases and preconceptions, preventing true awareness. This is particularly true in the realm of human relations. Without awareness, our encounters with others become, in effect, encounters with the preconceived ideas in our minds. This can lead only to our destruction.
We must be very watchful on this point, carefully bringing ourselves as much as possible into alignment with our essential nature. Our consciousness is at all times capable of directly encountering the world around us. This essence of mind is the mind of the Buddha; our minds and Buddha’s mind are one and the same. Nothing could be more precious than this. 

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