Zen Mirrors, Don't-Know Mind, and Blue Whales
Part One: Exploring don’t-know mind
Here’s a game you can play while in the state of ‘don’t-know mind.’ (no-mind)
Close your eyes and let your mind become silent; let it rest into don’t-know mind. Then let a little bit of knowing return. By letting just a hint of a thought arise you can trick yourself into believing that you are anything whatsoever. You can pretend that you are a cat, your best friend, or even God.
Don’t give away the fact that you are only pretending. Stay close to the state of ‘don’t-know mind’.
How far can you take this game?
Now pretend that you really are you. (Let just a hint of a “you-thought” arise.)
But then again maybe you aren’t really you? Maybe you are actually a butterfly or a blue whale.
Now you may start getting confused. So what or who are you?
Return to the state of don’t-know mind. (no-mind)
I love this state!
When you are done playing it is good to once again embrace your present personality and life situation.
What is the point of playing this game?
I suppose it is fun.
Part Two: Transcending the mind
The true don’t-know mind or enlightened mind is something more than the playful state described above.
It is not only silence or clarity of the mind, but rather it is no-mind or mind-transcended.
What does it mean to transcend the mind?
In order to understand what it means to transcend the mind, let’s compare it to transcending the body.
What does it mean to transcend the body (to be trans-physical)?
A rock is not trans-physical. It does not have a brain or a mind.
A human being is trans-physical. We have brains. We have minds.
You are trans-physical. You can control your body with your brain-mind. The average human being can:
i) Rest: You can sit down in a chair and not move. It takes no effort. It is relaxing.
ii) Move (controlled): You can easily stand up and go for a walk.
iii) Move (uncontrolled): You can let your hands move freely as you talk, or maybe you can even let your entire body dance wildly, completely uninhibited.
These are the three basic states of the transcended body: resting, moving (controlled), and moving (uncontrolled).
Likewise, there are three basic states of the transcended mind: silent mind (resting), thinking mind (controlled), and thinking mind (uncontrolled):
i) A silent mind means that there is no internal voice; it means that no images, symbols, or concepts arise. If the mind is transcended, then not thinking is effortless, just as resting your body in a chair is effortless. (You simply let it drop.)
ii) A thinking mind (controlled) means that thoughts are consciously guided.
iii) A thinking mind (uncontrolled) means that thoughts are consciously allowed to wander - such as when daydreaming or even thinking and vocalizing nonsensical babble.
These are the three basic states of the transcended mind. (Ken Wilber would say that there are more, but let’s keep this simple for now.)
So we see that a mind transcended is not necessarily silent.
Sometimes it is noisy.
Now there is a very old Zen metaphor that equates the enlightened mind with a perfectly polished mirror. When thoughts arise they are clearly reflected in the mirror; when no thoughts arise they are clearly not reflected in the mirror.
This is a beautiful metaphor. However, it doesn’t seem to me that this metaphor quite captures the nature of the enlightenment event. Enlightenment is more than seeing clearly. It is realizing that you are free – and realizing this is always an event. It is an event that takes place after years, perhaps lifetimes, of polishing your mirror.
Maybe we could add something to this mirror metaphor to make it more complete. We could say that the enlightenment event does not take place the moment you attain a perfectly polished mirror – that is only a precursor - but rather the enlightenment event takes place the moment you walk through the mirror’s frame and realize that there actually is no mirror, there is just empty space.
The enlightenment event takes place the moment you reach the surface, after spending years, perhaps lifetimes, climbing out of a deep and dark cave. It is realizing that you are finally free - you are even free to go back into the cave if you wish and help others find their way out.
The enlightenment event is like a dolphin crashing through the surface of the ocean and realizing it can fly . . .
And yet, none of this really matters while in the state of playful don’t-know mind, for after all maybe you are really just a butterfly pretending to be a blue whale pretending to be a butterfly.