Ordinary Mind Is Buddha Mind

There is a zen saying: “ordinary mind is Buddha mind”. I did understand this saying, but yesterday I realised it in a whole new way: Often what prompts us to start investigating ‘this spiritual stuff’, is a feeling of isolation; we feel as if, as this quote from A.E. Housman illustrates —

‘I, a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.'

We feel cut off from the source of life in some undefinable way, atomised by societal conditioning and our own past. Worried, scared, controlled by our own thoughts, unable to ever really find a sense of peace or rest. So we start looking for alternatives, and if there is a way to somehow recover something like the sense of being connected to the world that we had as a child.

Then maybe, either suddenly or gradually, maybe organically, via a technique or therapy, or using an external aid such as psychedelics: we have a breakthrough! We connect to the Oneness and see that the apparent separation was only an illusion. We see our mind as a mere mechanism running on past momentum, our personality as merely a mixture of biological traits and societal conditioning, and we understand that in a fundamental way, all has always been fine, and will always be fine.

We go back to our ordinary life full of love, full of hope, full of a desire to do great things. This can be, and probably usually is, a totally transformative experience. It can completely knock one sideways, giving a sense of vertigo and maybe even disconnection from the ‘ordinary world’. We have to be careful not to become inflated, but maybe we do fall into this trap. We think we are losing our mind. Or we find our old friends difficult to relate to, and they find us, in our new expanded state, as someone almost unrecognisable from the person we were before. It can be both beautiful and terrifying.

But gradually, maybe over a period of months or years, this fades, and we find ourselves back in the same situation we were originally, back in the ‘ordinary’ world. We now have the knowledge that this is not ‘all there is’, but this knowledge both comforts and tortures us simultaneously. We long to get back to the magic garden where all is One, but we can no longer find it. We may torture ourselves trying all kinds of techniques in vain, or if we are lucky we may get further glimpses.

Eventually we accept that this is not something we can really control. However we continue doing spiritual practices because they make us feel better, without trying to ‘get something’ out of doing them. But then something strange happens: in the absence of a desperate desire to ‘get out of our minds’, to ‘get out of this world’, an acceptance dawns.

And then paradoxically the Oneness comes closer, we feel its whisper more and more often. We let it be there when it is there, and not be there when it appears not to be. On a deeper level, we understand that it is always there, even when we are stressed or tired or distracted by ‘worldly’ things.

We understand that the ‘sacred’ and the ‘worldly’ are much closer than we imagined. We can, for example, marvel at the amazing technological innovations our society has made, even as we understand the environmental destruction our tech addiction is causing, and recognise that there is a larger and deeper context for everything.

We can appreciate, for example, for example, the dedication of someone who is convinced they have ‘the answer’, even though we know that answer is only partial at best.

We laugh at our own failings and vanities, and understand that they are never going to go away completely. We have compassion for ourselves in all our selfishness and ignorance.

The realisation that gradually dawns is that what has happened is that the ‘ordinary mind’ we started out with, with all its isolation and problems, has gradually started to merge with the Buddha mind we experienced in those peak states.

And we know that the goal must be to allow those two different aspects of Mind to come closer and closer until finally they are one, and Ordinary Mind = Buddha Mind, and the other way around. Finally the two aspects are recognised as one.

The ordinary mind, before encountering Oneness, is clearly problematic and causes a great deal of suffering. But what is recognised less often is that the mind focused mostly on Oneness, the Absolute, God, whatever (inadequate) word one wants to use, is not able to function well in the world, where we actually live. Try taking acid and going into a tax office! (Maybe you already did…)

We actually need the ordinary mind, it is vitally important. But we also need it to be in a larger context, the context of life and death and our place in the Universe, the context of what Is before our ordinary mind comes into being, and what Is after it ceases to exist.

I feel that this realisation, encapsulated in just a few words, can deepen throughout this life, and reveal itself more and more.

Photo by Man Dy from Pexels