Wednesday, August 11, 2010


If you come to a religion, or if you imbibe some kind of a mind-altering drug, you probably expect to get something in return. Maybe a vision, maybe a hallucination, maybe a revelation. And if you expect something, you will probably get something. That’s because you will have unconsciously or subconsciously manufactured it yourself, and are anticipating it.

The Roman Catholic Church is known for visions of the Virgin Mary, or of Jesus, or of some church-appointed saint.

One might ask why Catholics seem to have the edge on apparitions. Do we ever hear of modern day Lutheran visions? Or Methodist holy sightings?

Some years ago I spent a month in Ecuador with a small group of mountain climbers. We climbed five active volcanoes. The highest was Chimborazo at 21,000 feet.

The extreme altitudes and the accomplishments were heady. Even though none of us saw an abominable snowman, or a holy figure, we felt as high as a kite.

One night before climbing the peak called Tunguahura, we stayed at a hotel in the village of Baños. Over supper the host offered us a tea brewed from cocoa leaves, warning us the drink could be mildly hallucinogenic.

I sipped a cup of the brew, as did a woman from Philadelphia.

She got high, so she claimed. Maybe it was because she expected to get high.

I felt nothing. Maybe it was because at the time I was exuberant over the outdoors. I was in a primitive state, uninfluenced by civilization or artificiality.

It was a wonderful feeling.

And, as Sinatra sang, I did it my way.

Chinese Zen master Ma-tsu (707-783) said the Way is ordinary mind.

What is ordinary mind?

It’s a mind that sees no right, no wrong. It’s a mind that has no preconceived notions. No wants, no desires. No grasping, no rejecting. No beginning, no ending.

Mat-tsu said: Whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down, you respond to situations and deal with people as they come. Everything is the Way.

But what is the Way? What else is it called?

To quote Lao-tsu, the Taoist compiler of Tao Te Ching, “The Tao that can be told is not the real Tao. The name that can be named is not the real name.”

Ch’an Master Wu-yeh went to see Ma-tsu, and said he did not understand the teaching that mind is Buddha.

Ma-tsu said, “The mind that does not understand is it.”

What else do you need to know?

If you want to know the Way, to know the Buddha, don’t push. Don’t force. Don’t strain.

Don’t have preconceived notions or expectations.

Let go. Be open. Be receptive. Relax mentally and physically.

If someone were to ask a true Zen master if he—the roshi—were enlightened, an old-school roshi would probably clobber the other person.

These days, whacking someone is out of style. A true master would probably ignore the question because there is no verbal reply possible.

Remember, the Tao that can be told is not the real Tao.

The name that can be named is not the real name.

Don’t look for spooks and specters when there are none.

Ordinary mind is the Way.


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