Not only do we have voices within us that have been disowned, but we also have voices that have never been owned. In other words, we have aspects within ourselves that have never been awakened. We’ve never opened the door and allowed them out, but they’re there. They’re as much there as anger or fear or jealousy or hatred or joy or pleasure are there. They are just as real. You have within you aspects in your self that go beyond the self, that transcend the self, such as the awakened mind—what I call “Big Mind,” or “Big Heart.”
In June of 1999 I wondered, since I’d been working with speaking to a particular voice or particular aspect of the self that is disowned, if it was possible to speak to aspects that have never been awakened? And what I discovered, really to my amazement, was that we can. By asking to speak to the awakened mind, or Big Mind, or the awakened heart or Big Heart, or pure awareness, by asking to speak to it, we are actually able to come from that place and experience what it’s like to be that mind. Or we could ask to speak to the non-seeking, non-grasping mind (in Japanese this would be translated as musho toku, having no goal or aim in your zazen). This allows the student to truly sit shikantaza, just sitting. Or when working on a koan, ask to speak to the koan, such as mu: “Who are you?” “I am mu.” Now just sit as mu, walk as mu, eat as mu.
You could say that the Big Mind process creates the opportunity for a facilitated view of the transcendent. In Zen, the term for this view is kensho, a Japanese word which literally means “seeing one’s own true nature,” an experience of enlightenment. But even the most profound kensho experiences prior to daikensho (“great enlightenment”) are still momentary. It’s like the momentary opening of the shutter of a camera lens. The Big Mind practice trains us to hold the shutter of the lens open as long as we want to. Instead of a faint momentary glimpse, like a match lit and extinguished in a large room, the Big Mind process allows us to actually hold Big Mind open long enough to look around the room, to really get to know the territory.
The moment I acknowledge and confirm that I am that—I am Big Mind or Big Heart or the True Self—I’m no longer identified with the self. Now all of a sudden I’m identified with something new and fresh, and I can look in and see, well what does it mean that I am Big Mind? What is that? Is there a boundary, is there a limit; is there some kind of edge to me, some kind of beginning? And all of a sudden, once I have identified as, say, Big Mind what I realize is that I include and embrace all things, that there is nothing that’s not me.
Now, this is exactly what Buddha said 2,600 years ago, and what many very wise people in many spiritual traditions have been saying ever since. But it was also almost universally believed that it is only possible to see and realize this after many years of study and practice. What the Big Mind process brought to the world is that it offers what the Zen school has always offered: a way to suddenly and immediate awakening. However, even in the Zen tradition, which calls itself the sudden and immediate school, there have always been non-believers, people who think that it’s got to take many years, which was the old Buddhist understanding back for a very long time. For centuries, the Zen school has been making the revolutionary claim that any wisdom that is there within any of us, including the wisdom of the Buddha, is all there in all of us, the wisdom of the ages is there in all of us. It can be realized at any moment or any time, in a flash.
By Zen Master D. Genpo Merzel