Lesson
16

Baizhang

6 of 6

Keeping our mind still and pure

Baizhang summarized his technique for sudden illumination in a bold manifesto:

You should know that setting forth the principle of deliverance in its entirety amounts only to this: When things happen, make no response: Keep your minds from dwelling on any thing whatsoever. Keep them forever still as the void and utterly pure.

Why would we want to cut off all attachments, rationality, discernment, values, sensations? By releasing ourselves from this enslaving bondage to our ego and its attachments, Baizhang answered, we become the masters of our own being, free to experience the world but no longer at its mercy. And furthermore we no longer have even to think about being in the state of "no-thought." It is this natural state of wisdom that is our goal.

Concentration (dhyana) involves the stilling of your mind so that you remain wholly unmoved by surrounding phenomena. Wisdom means that your stillness of mind is not disturbed by your giving any thought to that stillness, that your purity is unmarred by your entertaining any thought of purity and that, in the midst of such pairs of opposites as good and evil, you are able to distinguish between them without being stained by them and, in this way, to reach the state of being perfectly at ease and free of all dependence.

To be separate from all sound and form, though not abiding in the separateness . . . this is the true practice . . . .

Baizhang

This is the state called enlightenment, a new way of experiencing reality that relies entirely upon intuition. Then we realize that all this time our rational-mind has been leading us along, telling us that appearances are real and yet keeping us from really experiencing things firsthand, since the rational mind believes in names, categories, duality. Consequently, before this sudden moment of intuitive understanding, we saw the world as through a glass darkly, with ourselves as subject and the falsely perceived exterior world as object. After this experience we see things clearly, but we perceive them for what they really are — creations of mind as devoid of genuine substance as the world we create in our dreams or the ocean's waves that we can see but cannot hold.

Knowing this, we can regard the world dispassionately, no longer caught in the web of ego involvement that enslaves those not yet enlightened. Since this whole world view only can be understood intuitively, it is not surprising that it must one day "dawn on you" when you least expect, like a sudden inspiration that hits you after logic has failed. Baizhang's instructions are intended to be preparations for this moment, attributes to adopt that will make you ready and receptive when your "sudden" enlightenment hits.

Baizhang defined dhyana as a state of mind, not an action.

Baizhang's concept of sudden enlightenment was quite straightforward, and it apparently was not absolutely necessary that meditation be employed. (In fact, he has defined dhyana as a state of mind, not an action.) Enlightenment is release from the ego, the primary thing standing in the way of mental peace in a world of getting and spending, of conflict and competition. The ancient Chan masters knew well the griefs and mental distress that haunt the heart of man, and thinkers such as Baizhang explored its cure more fully than we realize today.