This Discourse appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Mountain Record, “Within Light, Darkness.”
True Dharma Eye, Case 113
Baofu’s Blocking of the Eyes, Ears, and Mind
How do we become lost to ourselves? What does this even mean, and what’s the consequence of being lost? To see things as they are—it sounds so simple. We open our eyes, and there is something before us. The sun is bright; the moon is half-full; the grass is green. It appears plain and clear—what more is there to see? Well, if our ordinary seeing and perceiving was in accord with the real nature of things—our world—then shouldn’t our lives be functioning in harmony?
Delusion is another way of saying that we are not seeing what’s real. This is how we’re turned upside down. Think of how it is when somebody says something to us and it completely unsettles us. Sometimes all it takes is a word, a gesture, a look, and the next moment we find ourselves turned inside out, distressed or confused. In one fleeting moment, a single perception can send us into a complete tailspin.
In the Fire Sermon, the Buddha said, “The All is aflame. What All is aflame? The eye is aflame. Forms are aflame. Your consciousness of your eyes, burning. The contact that the eye makes with the form is burning, and all that arises in dependence on contact of the eye is burning. It is experiences. Pleasure and pain; this too is burning. Burning with what? Burning with our passion,” that is, our desire. “Burning with our hatred,” that is, ill will. “Burning with our delusion,” our not seeing clearly. “Burning, I tell you, with birth and aging and death, with sorrow, pain, distress, despair.” The ears are this way. Consciousness, too, is this way. All the senses are this way.
This burning that the Buddha speaks of is at the heart of all suffering. This is our discriminating consciousness—the source of our bias and prejudice, our looking but not seeing; our listening but not hearing; our noticing without actually being aware. All forms of suffering arise from this discriminating consciousness which expresses itself through anger and hatred, greed and ignorance. When we look at the world and see the endless stream of strife and conflict, all of it arises from this burning.
Each day the news is filled with stories that affirm the truth of this teaching, but recently I have been particularly affected by what happened to Trayvon Martin, the African-American teenager who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. The trial of Zimmerman recently came to a conclusion, and a verdict was reached. Zimmerman was acquitted and Martin was essentially charged with his own murder.
As I have been reflecting on this tragedy, I felt very strongly that I wanted to address it, to examine it in terms of the buddhadharma. What can we learn from this? Our practice is to study reality—to see and understand what happens in the world so that we can take responsibility, so that we can actualize good and cease from evil. To do this, we have to understand where evil arises from. It is not in some separate, far-away place; it’s within each one of us.
I listened to the recording of George Zimmerman speaking with the police dispatcher on the night that Martin was killed. The first thing he said about Martin was, “This guy is up to no good. He must be on drugs or something.” As I listened to his voice, I could hear no uncertainty, no question, no allowance for a wrong perception. There’s no “maybe,” no, “it seems to me,” or “as far as I can tell.” It’s, “This guy is up to no good.” There’s certainty. If he’s not on drugs, he’s on something else. It’s not a question. The path in his mind already seems set and clear. He sees and understands, and has complete faith in both. When the mind is cloudy with our own biased views—and all delusion is biased—it is this cloudy mind, this bias, that we are seeing. The person in front of us is like a shadow of something familiar that rouses our habitual patterns of mind. So in those precipitous moments, there was the real person in Zimmerman’s sight, and there was the person in his mind. When we care enough to examine closely, we begin to understand that our fear and anger is not about the person before us, but this “other” we’ve created in our own mind. In other words, we’re seeing aspects of ourselves, not the real person before us.
Zimmerman continued, “It’s raining; this kid is just walking around. He’s got something in his hands.” Clearly, in his mind, that’s not okay. We can see how from one fixed position, all things seem to line up and affirm that one view. When the mind is established within suspicion, we perceive things as suspicious. “He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is. These assholes, they always get away.” The Buddha said when we’re caught in confusion, we mistake a coiled rope for a snake. We see something harmless and perceive it as a threat. This mind of bias and attachment is a controlling, presumptuous mind. One moment to the next, creating more and more certainty, turning the attention further and further from oneself, accumulating anger and moving towards action. Very quickly all clarity is blotted out and the path that we see ahead becomes tightly bound.
In the next moment Zimmerman is out of his car and running toward what he thinks he knows. But what is really happening? This young man, who was walking home in the rain, carrying a soft drink and some candy, is now dead. Charged with his own murder. These are the real and dangerous implications of living within the flawed, biased, deluded perceptions of our conditioned mind, and confusing them for reality.
Zimmerman’s words to the dispatcher are an articulation of his thoughts, and at the same time they are supporting and affirming these same thoughts. Everything that we experience is both influencing the next moment as well as being influenced by the previous moment—this is described in the twelve-fold chain of causation. So the sound of our own voice affects us, and passion mounts. A flame that is fanned burns brighter. The more we speak of our perspective or our view, the stronger and more apparently true our perspective seems. Zimmerman’s tragic tale begins with a guy who looks like he’s up to no good, who then becomes an asshole who is getting away with something, who is then killed by Zimmerman’s gun.
This trajectory of mind is what the Buddha addresses—the small and large ways in which we can’t contain ourselves. The karma we create has an effect. The movements of our mind spill out; we’re leaking. This is how our mind—being biased, predisposed and arrogant—sees what it expects to see. I’m sure, from within the mind of George Zimmerman, he was speaking from an experience of what seemed true. That is what we call delusion— our inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for the immense power of our thoughts, words and actions. Tragedies like this are the consequence.
Charles Blow, an African-American columnist for the New York Times, wrote about struggling with how to speak to his two young sons to prepare them to be safe in this world. He writes of how, as black parents, “We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly. So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?” Is it possible, he asks, for a young black man to be in this world in a way that doesn’t become a crime? Or is black masculinity suspicious in and of itself? Just by the fact of being, one is suspect.
We define living beings based on our own attachments. At the heart of our attachments is fear of either not getting what we desire, or facing what we fear. When we reflect on how attached we are to things, we can begin to discover how fearful we are. When we study this closely, we see that on a deep and subtle level we are being driven by fear, and that’s hard to hold. Our entire sense of self, of who we are, is arising from fearful attachments; we’re building walls in our mind to try and keep ourselves safe and protected. And this fear, these attachments, create our limited sense of self. It’s a cycle that builds on itself. And so, feeling limited, we limit others. Feeling estranged and isolated, we isolate others. Feeling unworthy, we make others unworthy. It’s a violence of the mind that becomes physical violence. We look around at the world and at other beings and we believe we know who and what we’re seeing. The dharma teaches us that all we perceive in this conventional way is fundamentally false, yet most of the time we won’t even allow for the possibility that maybe there’s something here that we don’t understand. We can be unconcerned with the possibility that we may be mistaken, and unconcerned about our lack of concern.
When we really look closely at race, at gender, at so many of the ways we view one another, we see that we actually live in different worlds. We’re seen differently; we’re related to differently; different doors open or do not open. Some doors don’t even appear. The welcome we receive, the support we receive, the degree to which we’re told, “Yes, this is your world; yes, you belong here” or not, reveals that we are living in different worlds—worlds shaped by the burning delusion of our minds.
In this koan, Master Baofu says to his students, “I cover your eyes to let you see what is not seen. I cover your ears so you can hear what cannot be heard. I restrain your mind to let you give up thinking.” Being so immersed, so saturated in all of our own biased views—and I don’t mean just racist or sexist ideas and views, but all views biased in favor of the self—we try to align everything for our own self-centered comfort and away from our self-centered displeasure. Our work as practitioners is to restrain ourselves, to not act from the conditioned belief in our view, to see what is really in front of us. We think we just look out and see the world. I believe this is what George Zimmerman thought. He was not seeing Trayvon Martin as a mental construction of his mind, but rather, as something as real to him as the falling rain, or the car that he was sitting in.
Baofu tells us to go to the place where we’re no longer looking outside, the place where eyes, ears and mind are “covered.” In truth, Baofu himself cannot cover your eyes or ears for you. No one can. It’s the natural falling away that happens when we cease the activity of our self-making self and arrive at a timeless, locationless place. When we are utterly alone, the one I call myself cannot be found. This is what Baofu is speaking of. This is a different kind of blindness, a spiritual “not seeing.” But this is not yet enlightenment, for here there is no compassion, no hearing the cries of the world. In this place, we cannot know of right and wrong, of Zimmerman and Martin. So we must step forward from the mountain peak and manifest in every direction. Daido Roshi’s verse says, “This jet black darkness emits light.” From the depths of the moonless night, the morning light ushers forth.
Dizang says, “Let me ask you, when I don’t cover your eyes, what do you see? When I don’t cover your ears, what do you hear? When I don’t restrain your mind, what do you discern?” The eyes are not tainted, the ears and mind are not tainted. Ultimately, it’s not a matter of covering or not covering. Here and now, without a thought of black or white, who are you? What is it? Daido Roshi’s commentary says, “This one stands on the mountains and raises waves that encompass heaven and earth. The other descends to the depths of the great ocean and raises mud and sand.” From within darkness, there is light, but don’t look for that light. From this vast emptiness, empty of any thing, open your eyes onto the world of distinction and difference—white, brown and black. This is not a different place. This, too, is timeless and locationless, appearing in myriad forms.
To see what cannot be seen, to hear what cannot be heard, to allow the world to pierce us in this way—this is our path. How do we let the other in, now that they’re no longer “the other”? How do you see when there’s no agenda, no fear in the mind? When the self is realized as selfless, without abiding nature, then who are you? Finally, it’s not about letting anyone in at all. There never was an outside, an other, a boundary separating you and I.
This is why Bodhidharma said that the greatest act of generosity that we can ever offer is to give up—to realize—our sense of self. When we let go of ourseleves, we are finally free to be truly compassionate, to care. When we realize that we are not who we think we are, and that there is fundamentally nothing that needs to be protected, no identity to defend, then our greed, hatred and fear fall away.
We are of one nature, and that one nature appears in different forms. At this moment this nature happens to appear in this form, which I call myself, and in that form, which you call yourself. That’s just because of causes and conditions. These forms are just temporary. It’s nothing to get hung up about. Some of you may have seen the short speech that Obama gave a day or two after the verdict in the Zimmerman case. He recalled, “You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” In truth, it’s even closer than this: you and I are one reality, and that one reality has many forms.
Appearing as white or black or brown, male or female, young or old, animate or inanimate, we have a particular offering. The problem is when we create fixed identities from these characteristics. Every dharma, every creature, is endowed with a radiant self-nature. This is what the Buddha realized; this is why Buddhism regards all things as sacred. It’s not because of what they do for us, but just because they are. All things reach everywhere, are self-illuminating, self-intelligent, and interdependent with all other beings.
An expression of this is that we each want to be happy. George Zimmerman wants to know true happiness; Trayvon Martin wanted just the same. Are you and I any different? And if, at that critical moment, George Zimmerman could have imagined that Trayvon Martin shared that fundamental desire, I can’t imagine he would have acted as he did. But there has to be space; there has to be interest in the other. There has to be questioning and humility, a willingness to open ourselves to what we do not undertsand and cannot see.
Is the one who hates fundamentally different from the one who is hated? Not a hair different. And yet, in order to realize that, first we have to discover the jet black darkness, the moonless night. We have to uncover the mind that is free of history and memories and ideas—and then leap forward. That leaping forward is the “traveling by day” that Daido Roshi is speaking of. How do you travel by day? Having freed yourself of all differences, how then do you freely turn toward the world of differences?
The night heals the day and the day heals the night. It’s up to us to strive to use unnecessary tragedies such as this to help us awaken. When we look around the world and see these ancient boundaries and walls of mind built from the bricks of perceived differences—race, gender, sexuality and class—we need to resist by practicing seeing through our habitual patterns of mind. We should take such tragedies as a call to arms—not in terms of taking up violence or aggression, but a call to wield the sword of the spiritual warrior: the sword of wisdom that cuts through delusion.
Delusion has never been sustainable. It kills us from the inside—a living kind of death, a dying kind of life. And so the student of the Way takes in the pain of the world and turns it into a vow. President Obama spoke about how he and Michelle observe their daughters hanging out with friends of different skin color and ethnic backgrounds. He said, “You know, they’re better than we were.” In a sense, that’s what practice is about. It’s not about becoming a different person, but becoming better at being ourselves by being without a trace of contrivance or idea—being a true human being.
Buddhism teaches that this work is our true purpose, and that bringing this awakening to ourselves and the world leads us to the happiest, most joyful, most genuinely pleasurable life that it’s possible to have. So when something deeply disturbing like this happens, we can use it as an opportunity to reflect. See the dharma. See your practice. See your own mind in the mind of George Zimmerman. See your own body in the body of Trayvon Martin. This is how transformation happens. This is how we heal.
Is manifesting an enlightened society just a dream? Yes, it’s a dream. But it’s a good dream—a powerful dream. It’s a dream that we need to have for ourselves and each other.
True Dharma Eye, Case 113
Baofu’s Blocking of the Eyes, Ears, and Mind
Dizang asked a monastic from Baofu Monastery, “How does your master teach the Buddhadharma?”
The monastic said, “Once Master Baofu Congzhan told the assembly, ‘I cover your eyes to let you see what is not seen. I cover your ears to let you hear what is not heard. I restrain your mind to let you give up thinking.’”
Dizang said to the monastic, “Let me ask you, when I don’t cover your eyes, what do you see? When I don’t cover your ears, what do you hear? When I don’t restrain your mind, what do you discern?”
Upon hearing these words the monastic had realization.
Baofu covers the monastic’s eyes, ears, and mind in order to reveal that which cannot be seen, heard, or perceived. What is revealed that cannot be seen, heard, or perceived? Dizang asks, when eyes, ear, and mind are not covered, what is perceived? One pushes down; the other lifts up. One stands on the summit of the great mountain and raises waves that encompass heaven and earth. The other descends to the depths of the great ocean and raises mud and sand. Do these two adepts speak of the same thing, or is what they point to different? Is Baofu’s covering the same as or different from Dizang’s not covering? Haven’t you heard? “If you intend to make a living on the road, you will have to travel by day, not by night.” How do you travel by day?
If they have an eye, I cover it up;
If they don’t have an eye, I uncover it.
The jet black darkness emits light—incredible!
The whole universe is illuminated.
This dharma is so subtle and profound, it can’t be perceived by the senses. Thus, we must go beyond the senses and discover that which is beyond all knowing. When an object meets the eye, eye-consciousness perceives. But this consciousness is burdened with karmic streams that cloud the mind, and likewise, our perception. We see the object for an instant before it becomes appropriated by the mind. So we mistake our conditioned mind for the object itself. Thus, our senses can function as thieves, stealing our true, authentic experience away. Master Ching Ch’ing asked a student, “What is that sound outside the gate?” The student said, “It’s the sound of raindrops falling.” The master replied, “People these days are upside down. They lose themselves and follow after things.”
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Roshi is the Head of the Mountains and River Order and the Abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and the Zen Center of New York City.
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