Use your mind freelyThe Chinese Zen master Ma-tsu had a disciple named Ta-mei who was studying under him. The first time Ta-mei met the Zen master he asked him, “What is Buddha?”
Ma-tsu answered, “Mind itself is Buddha.”
Ta-mei went deep into the mountains alone and practiced Zen, reflecting for a very long time on the words of his master. Ma-tsu later sent someone to check on his disciple’s progress.
When the monk who had been sent there met Ta-mei, he asked him, “Whose disciple are you?”
“I am the disciple of Zen master Ma-tsu.”
“And what have you learned from him?”
“He gave me only one teaching — Mind is Buddha.”
“Well, that’s quite odd, because these days Zen master Ma-tsu only teaches ‘Not mind, not Buddha.’”
Ta-mei suddenly cried out, “What! — That old fart hasn’t died yet?! — He’s screwing up the whole world! Anyway, no matter what anyone says, I still firmly believe that mind itself is Buddha.”
When Ma-tsu heard this story he smiled contentedly, called all his disciples together and told them, “The plum (Ta-mei means ‘great plum’) has fully ripened — all of you go there and eat your fill.”
This story isn’t complicated — actually, it’s quite straight-forward. Ma-tsu originally taught that “Mind itself is Buddha.” Let’s take a look at our daily lives — from the time we wake up in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we generate countless states of mind. People grumble to themselves, “It’s so hard to live in this rat-race! I wish I could just go somewhere and take a rest.” They complain, “I’m so busy I can’t even control my own mind!”
Look carefully, though — we are already living our lives freely using our minds as we like. Some might argue with this, “If I’m freely using my mind, why do I still feel so afraid, like I’m being pursued?” or “Where is this mind that I’m freely using? My mind only seems to appear when it’s out of control.”
If you really believe this then you are underestimating yourself. Ma-tsu’s teaching “Mind itself is Buddha” is not just an eloquent phrase — it’s expressing the fundamental truth and principle of the universe. This hurried, anxious, frustrated feeling was also created by our own minds, of course — everything is made by mind alone.
Are you starting to get the picture? Our minds ceaselessly generate these states of anxiety, uncertainty and distress — its creative power is infinite. It can also create feelings of pleasure, tranquility and elation. Our minds create whatever we require, just as we need it — that’s why “Mind itself is Buddha.” The hurried mind becomes a hurried Buddha, the anxious mind an anxious Buddha and the joyful mind a joyful Buddha.
In that case, why do we live in such a constant state of unease — surely we would all prefer to be free from this anxiety and distress! The reason is simple — it’s because we’ve created these states of anxiety ourselves. We’re afraid that we’ve lost something or that we’re missing something, so we feel anxious; we create this anxiety ourselves and hold it to it.
Ma-tsu also said, “Not mind, not Buddha.” He did this because people had begun to attach to the teaching “Mind itself is Buddha” — they were attached to both mind and to Buddha. Accordingly, he followed this with, “Not mind, not Buddha,” because if you attach to something, you get stuck; if you get stuck, then you stagnate and if you stagnate, you lose your life.
Our minds function by ceaselessly arising and dissipating — being created and destroyed, again and again. When that happens, limitless energy is utilized and its infinite creative power is realized. After a fearful state of mind appears, it must also disappear — only then can another state arise, allowing the right state of mind to be utilized at the right place and time. If we continue to observe this in our daily lives, we will have some realization, and if we continue to practice we will completely attain it.
We can freely use our minds — Mind itself is Buddha; not mind, not Buddha.
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo writer on religious affairs.