Zen Master Huang Po on the folly of Seeking for your Mind Outside

Question to Zen Master Huang Po, who had just likened the True Mind to empty space:

Surely the void stretching out in front of our eyes is objective.  Then aren’t you pointing to something objective and seeing Mind in it?


What sort of mind could I tell you to see in an objective environment?  Even if you could see it, it would only be Mind reflected in an objective sphere.

You would be like a man looking at his face in a mirror; though you could distinguish your features in it clearly, you would still be looking at a mere reflection.  What bearing has this on the affair that brought you to me?

– John Blofield translation

In other words, to seek your Real Mind in the external objective environment, perceived by the senses is false.  Any “object” of your senses which your Mind lands on – even thoughts as “mental objects” or even empty space as an “object” – is not your real Mind.

Your Real Mind, the awareness with which you see is like empty space (translated in this passage as “the void”) because it is unchanging.  But if you can observe it, it’s actually not real – it’s merely a phenomenon being observed by the Mind.

As Ajahn Sumedho would say, it’s like trying to go around to everyone asking, “Have you seen my eyes?  I don’t know where my eyes are – can you help me find them?” looking externally for your eyes.

So you stumble upon a mirror and think, “Oh, there they are!”

But what you see in the mirror is not your real eyes.  No matter how real your eyes look in the mirror – they are not your real eyes!

Similarly, if you try to look for your Real Mind in external phenomena that your mind grasps at and latches on to some characteristic (lakkhana/lakshana) – that’s not your true Mind, but something that you’ve mistaken to be your Mind.

Because you can sit back and observe something – therefore you are not that which you observe.  That something is external to you.

What can be done then?

Let go.  Lay down whatever you have grasped or cognized so that the senses are quiescent and even thoughts are done away with.

Master Huang Po clarifies:

  • By thinking of something you create an entity.
  • By thinking of nothing you create another.

Let all such erroneous thinking perish and nothing will be left for you to go seeking.

– John Blofield translation


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