By John Author
“Outside the mind, there is no Dharma.” – Huang-po
Welcome friends and lovers, to the third installment of the Anatta Series.
Each of these posts is meant to answer the questions:
Who am I?
What is emptiness?
How are things empty?
In the mind-made dimension that we’re touring today, the answers are:
Mind is you.
Everything’s empty, in that they have no appearance without mind.
Mind makes forms into forms, like spotting penises and vaginas in inkblots.
That’s the who, what and how—there is no why.
As unsatisfactory as it seems, shit just kind of happens for no apparent reason and with no ultimate goal. Spring comes, flowers bloom. Winter falls, flowers wither. Yes, it’s very dumb in a strangely relieving kinda way.
Anyway, without mind, there is no spring nor winter. Without mind, there are no flowers to bloom and wither. Without mind, there is no emptiness, no questions, no answers and no Dharma. Without mind, there is no mind.
Everything I know is the mind’s design. The blues, pinks and yellows; the people, places and things; the joys and sorrows; life and death—all mind.
This is easy to see. What happens to all these things during deep sleep? I might say they disappear, but really they un-appear because there is no memory of them having been in the first place. In deep sleep, the self doesn’t die; it’s un-created.
Every night, reality un-arises; my friends, family, loves, fears, and myself all enter “nirodha” or non-arising. The difference between deep sleep and the formless jhanas is that there is no will or Bodhicitta during deep sleep. This makes all the difference in the world, and it’s why we can’t sleep our way to enlightenment.
The gem of Yogacara/Cittamatra (the Mind-Only or Mind Design school of Buddhism) is that projection causes suffering. We project objective reality or existence onto subjective emptiness, and this entices us to cling and crave. The antidote is seeing that clinging, craving, not clinging, not craving, suffering and relief from suffering are all—you guessed it—only mind.
We see a beautiful person in the clouds, and we fall in love. We cling to them as being something outside of ourselves, something independent and alone. They age, they get sick, they die, and we suffer. What’s really happening is that the clouds are shifting so that what we saw in them before, changes into something else. Really, the entire time, it was only clouds.
How we must look to Bodhisattvas! We are clouds spending all our time forming beliefs about clouds. Clouds chasing cloud genitals and running from cloud wolves. We are cloud soldiers with cloud guns shooting at other cloud soldiers, dying cloud deaths and perpetuating cloud births.
All the while we are thinking that these images are actuality when really, the actuality is mind-cloud or Xin-Yun. Everything extra is like a mirage, a dream or a Rorschach painting. The word like is critically important. As your attorney, I advise you to not overlook it.
A fun visualization exercise might be imagining that everything around us and within us is made of clouds. The mind—an intangible and inconceivable aspect of things—cuts it all up into pieces. It takes some paint brushes and colors everything in and adds some rationalizing narratives.
Then it gets lost in the play. It forgets its true nature; thus it forgets the true nature of everything it’s painted and penciled in.
We get lost and confused, like someone forgetting where they live. Then a Buddha or Bodhisattva comes along, points at a cloud we’re staring at and says:
“Look at that table!”
“That’s not a table. That’s my dog.”
“Well, it has four legs, so it sure looks like a table to me. I can even put stuff on it, see?”
“It’s not a fucking table, dude! And get your bong off my dog!”
“Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry. It’s a cloud!”
“No, it’s—wait, it is a cloud.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“What to do you—oh, whoa dude.”
Yogacara was created long before there was a strong secular tradition in Buddhism, so there isn’t much talk of balancing image and actuality. But I’d say that it’s vital to equalize them. If I see only image, then I’m gonna suffer a LOT. If I see only clouds, then I’m gonna become an aloof asshat who can’t connect with the thoughts and feelings of others.
Nagarjuna might say it isn’t that these cloud-images are non-existent, but that their existence is provisional. And if we remember the first two aspects of anatta, we can see that each cloud is part of the whole sky.
That means, real or not, suffering and joy are communal property. The cloud wolves, the bunny rabbits and the killer clowns are all shared by the same sky.
It’s very tempting, and even many ancient teachers like Huang-po have committed this folly, to say that the clear sky is our true nature. Many feel that the images in the clouds (and even the clouds themselves) are delusion.
The images, the clouds, the mind, and the clear blue sky are all our true nature.
Ignorance, wisdom, hatred, compassion, attachment and non-attachment are all one. It’s never been about true and false, but about the big picture vs. one-sidedness; adaptability vs. fixation. I could go on and on about this face of anatta, but we’re already almost a thousand words in.
I hope you enjoyed this incoherent ramble, and catch you all on the flippity flop.
Editor: Dana Gornall
John is a Caodong Ch'an student in the Empty Cloud Lineage of Hsu Yun. His Dharma name is Feng Dao which means "Wild Way" or "Windy Way." He originally wanted to become a social worker, focusing on preventative mental health care, but writing is his passion. “Above all else, I’m just a writer. Words come, I write them, I drink coffee.”
Oppression and marginalization are key issues for John. “I was forced out of mainstream society at a young age by my peers. So I will always stand up for the underdog and criticize bullying, coercion, and any institution that relies on those tactics.” Asked about what the most pressing issue of our time is, he replied, “The environment. We’ve bullied the earth so much that it could almost be called marginalized.”