Monday, November 02, 2009

mind or gray matter

The Buddha said, “Do not dwell in the past or dream of the future, but concentrate your mind on the present moment.”
The word “mind” is a dodgy term for philosophers, for psychologists, and for physiologists. I owe most of the thoughts in tonight’s talk to James Austin, neurologist, and author of the book, Zen and the Brain.
Austin wrote that “mind” is a slippery word that creates more problems than do many other words, because it has been used to mean many different things.
The brain is a thing. It has color, it has weight, it occupies space. Is mind part of the brain, or is mind an entity of its own produced by the brain?
What is mind? It’s not an object you can lay your hands on. So is it a notion, a concept, an idea? Does mind exist by itself?
It’s like trying to comprehend what, in quantum theory, is called the Standard Model of light. Before Einstein, light was thought to be both particles and waves. The Standard Model clarified this theory because it includes fermions and bosons. There are four bosons, which include mesons, which include quarks and anti-quarks.
And some people think Zen is baffling.

Woody Allen said man consists of two parts, the mind and the body, only the body has more fun.
As Zen practitioners, when we do zazen we may first be aware of our breathing. Then, as James Austin says, stimulus and response patterns drop out by themselves, which means we stop being attentive to inhalations and exhalations. We enter what is known as mushin, or no mind. However, the Japanese term, mushin, means without mind and without heart.
Nevertheless, we do not become heartless or unconscious.
Instead, in mushin the brain has shucked off judgments, and worries and thoughts. It has not stopped thinking, nor has it gone into hibernation. It has become highly receptive, sharply aware.
When you sit in zazen you may hear a fire truck’s siren, but you don’t wonder where the blaze is. You may feel the room’s automatic heating or cooling kick on, but you do not wriggle in pleasure or annoyance.
You let what is, be what it is.
Zen’s no-mind suggests a mental attitude in which you are extremely attentive to the input of your senses, but you are not attached to them. That is, no-mind is different from non-thinking.
If the Zen term no-mind implies non-attachment, does the Zen term mindfulness imply a mind full of thoughts? The two terms may sound opposed, but they point toward similar modes of meditation practice.
Zazen is attention in which the brain is empty of all associations.
To quote a brilliant phrase of Austin’s, “Then, the process which began on the cushion during zazen continues afterward as an ongoing mode of uncluttered living.”
That is to say, meditation is awakening (some call it enlightenment). Off the cushion, awakening is genuine living. It is freedom from mental disorder, and the opening of a mindful state of awareness.
Remember the story of the monks arguing whether the wind caused the temple banner to flap, or if the banner caused the wind to flap.
The Zen master cut short the discussion by saying, “Neither. It is your mind that is flapping.”


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