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“Faith in Mind” [1]
Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The way is perfect, like vast space
when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene without striving for activity in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know oneness.
Those who do not live in the single way
fail in both activity and passivity,
assertion and denial.

These verses may seem to be very confusing at first glance. It seems to be saying in one line that when we do not understand something our mind is “disturbed to no avail” and yet a few lines later we read we are being asked to try not to be bothered with knowing and not knowing, so which is it? Know, not know, understand, not understand? Seems to me that Buddhism is the best philosophy on the planet, knowing and not knowing are both okay. Right can be wrong, and wrong can be right on any given day. Black and white do not exist, life is filled with shades of every color on the spectrum of light.

And yet he writes, “As long as you remain in one extreme or the other you will never know oneness.” Thus many have called this path the “middle way.” That is something I can grasp. I can see that in my life when I have taken my thoughts and feelings too far in one direction or the other I have either been in “heaven” or “hell.” I may choose the heaven over the hell, but eventually even that means that I’ve decided on “preferences.” If you read my previous blog you’ll see how that can cause problems in our lives as well.

So what is the answer? Let’s go back to this line for a minute: The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Too much of anything can be a bad thing from too much love which can end up suffocating us or too little love which can end up creating feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt. But just the right amount like these lyrics illustrate “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in a most delightful way,” as Julie Andrews sang so beautifully in the Mary Poppins movie. Not too much sugar and not too little, just “one spoonful” was just right. The best medicine of life is to find balance and equilibrium though the middle way: Just enough, not too much and not too little in life of challenges, love, contentment, peace, joy, happiness, and sadness.

So when you find yourself moving too far in one direction or the other remember Mary Poppins and your life will be lived “in a most delightful way.” Remember also these words of Seng’tsan, “The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.” The middle way: Try it I think, like Mary Poppins, you’ll love it!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Osho (2014) Hsin Hsin Ming, The Zen Understanding of Mind and Consciousness. Osho International Foundation

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I was wondering what I should blog on next and so I sent a note to my teacher Mitch Doshin Cantor and he suggested that I begin writing on Faith in Mind a sutra (poem) written in the 6th Century because it is a great way to learn about the beliefs and tenants of Buddhism. It is vast and in the version that I will be using it contains over 1,000 words!

This is the longest sutra I have tried to create a workbook from. Needless to say, it will take me a lot of time and energy and many blog posts to do it justice. This will give my readers the opportunity to take as long as they like to quietly focus on one section at a time.

Its opening verse is among the most quoted verses of Buddhism, even so most people do not know its real origin.

The first section reads:

The great way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
And heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinion for or against. . .
The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.

This line “The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences” has been taught and shared by spiritual leaders, seekers, philosophers, psychologists, therapists, and clergy for centuries. I first came across it as a Unity minister when reading a wonderful book by Ken Keyes, Jr., The Handbook to Higher Consciousness. It has influenced my life ever since. Little did I know at the time that he was a student of Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa, and Alan Watts. I guess I was a Buddhist before I was a Buddhist!

In it he talked about giving up our preferences! That having preferences about everything is the path to pain and suffering. And as the sutra says it does not matter whether those preferences are heaven over hell, love over hate, or mint chocolate chip ice cream over vanilla. Well, the ice creams not really in the sutra!

I recall going to Ken Keyes’ College in Coos Bay, Oregon, in the 1980’s for a month long work study program. The very first thing I did was organize a group of people to get the macrobiotic cook to make at least one of the pizzas with “real” mozzarella cheese and not tofu cheese for the non-vegan students! Talk about needing to learn what Ken had to teach! I was the star pupil…

After all these years it is still a lifelong process of learning to live without preferences. I still sometimes “set heaven and earth infinitely apart” and although I still like that mint chocolate chip ice cream I will eat the vanilla if you serve it–no preferences.

It may not be a quick and easy path, but it is an important one. I do “wish to see the truth” and so if you catch me showing off my preferences I hope you’ll remind me because Sosan says, “The struggle of what one likes and what one dislikes is the disease of the mind.” That is one disease I hope to avoid as often as I can! With your help I’m sure I’ll find my way.

Thanks Ken, wherever you are!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Faith in Mind: Attributed to: (Sosan, Zen) Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese Patriarch

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