The One Mind – The Zen Teaching of Huang Po

The Master said to me:

All the Buddhas and all sentient beings are nothing but the One Mind, beside which nothing exists.

This Mind, which is without beginning:

  • is unborn 1 and indestructible.
  • It is not green nor yellow, and has neither form nor appearance.
  • It does not belong to the categories of things which exist or do not exist,
  • nor can it be thought of in terms of new or old.
  • It is neither long nor short, big nor small,

for it transcends all limits, measures, names, traces and comparisons.

It is that which you see before you—begin to reason about it and you at once fall into error. It is like the boundless void which cannot be fathomed or measured. The One Mind alone is the Buddha, and there is no distinction between the Buddha and sentient things, but that sentient beings are attached to forms and so seek externally for Buddhahood. By their very seeking they lose it, for that is:

  • using the Buddha to seek for the Buddha and
  • using mind to grasp Mind.

Even though they do their utmost for a full aeon, they will not be able to attain to it. They do not know that, if they put a stop to conceptual thought and forget their anxiety, the Buddha will appear before them, for this Mind is the Buddha and the Buddha is all living beings. It is not the less for being manifested in ordinary beings, nor is it greater for being manifested in the Buddhas.

The Zen Teaching of Huang Po – John Blofeld translation

Master Huang Po talking about the One Mind is basically the Buddha Nature, the True Mind within all of us.  It is also called the Bodhi Citta (which means the enlightened mind) and Bodhi Nirvana (enlightened Nirvana).

The One Mind alone is Buddha” says Huang Po.  This is true.  The real Buddha wasn’t necessarily the person who walked around 2500 years ago teaching us the Dharma – that form was merely a manifestation of the real Buddha.

“Buddha” means “awakened one”, the Buddho, the One who knows  – it is that which is awake, wise and free from delusion within all of us, the knower, our enlightened awareness.

So Master Huang Po says that the difference between a Buddha and an ordinary living being is that we get confused by appearances and seek externally, thinking that what we really are is this lump of flesh with its mental processes (called the 5 skandhas).  However:

  • Our body is perceived by our mind
  • Our thoughts, feelings and perceptions are perceived by our mind

So whatever we perceive are not our minds – they things external to our minds.  Now anything that has characteristics forms part of whatever we perceive.  So if we try to seek for our mind in anything that has characteristics – therefore what we have found is actually something external to our mind and not the mind itself – because of the very fact that we can perceive it.  Because we can sit back and perceive it, therefore we are not what we perceive.  Whatever has forms or characteristics that we can grasp and latch on to are not us – not self.  Hence why Huang Po says that “By our very seeking, we lose it”.

Huang Po says it’s a mistake to use mind to seek mind – because whatever our mind falls on to would be an “object” of mind – not the mind itself.  So don’t make the mistake of using mind to grasp mind.

This is similar to trying to look in the outside world for our vision.  A crazy man thinks he’s lost his vision and asks everyone where his vision is:

“Where’s my vision?  I can’t find my vision anywhere!  I’ve looked high and low for it, but I can’t find my vision anywhere in the world” he says.

Then he looks in the mirror and sees his own eyes, “Oh, there’s my vision!”  But he’s been fooled yet again by externals, fooled again by appearances.  The eyes are merely the physical organ of vision – not the vision itself – so he has just mistaken an object of vision (whatever he sees in the mirror) for the vision itself.

Now just because he can’t find his vision in the whole world – does it mean that his vision does not exist?  Of course not.  The fact that he “sees” – means that he has vision, but vision itself can’t be found in the external world of perceived objects.  Why?  Because vision is the perceiver not the perceived.

The Buddha’s teachings on not-self can be understood in the same way.  If you try to look for your self in the external world, whatever you perceive will be not-self.  It is an object of your perception, not the perceiver itself.  So it’s like the self perceiving the not-self.

Now does this mean that the self doesn’t exist?  Of course not.  It just means that whatever you perceive is not the self.  The perceiver can not be found within whatever you perceive.

And so, in the same way that vision can NOT be found in the physical world but rather clues that the vision manifests in the external world can be found, i.e., we can see.  The self can not be found in the world of phenomena – which all has characteristics that can be latched on to, because whatever it latches on to is obviously not self (because it’s like self latching on to the not-self).

Rather, clues can be found that the Self exists because of intention and free will – the ability to choose our responses rather than merely reacting mindlessly, blaming it on whatever happened before you – like dominoes falling one after the other because dominoes have no free will or intention to do otherwise.  As the Atta-kari Sutta says – there is a self that does things.


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