We are all born with the unborn Buddha Mind, what I call Big Mind/Big Heart, an inner awareness that we are connected with others and our environment – literally One Mind. But something happens as we grow up; we begin to make distinctions and to separate ourselves from the rest of the world. We trade the Big Heart-Mind we are born with for another mind that centers around the small self. That self then becomes our number one preoccupation.
The small mind always looks at the world from the center called “me.” The arrow points “out there” so everything else appears to be on the outside. And when we look “out there,” we feel rather empty, unimportant and incomplete “in here.” Naturally want arises; we want to feel better, more complete. As long as we believe that something outside ourselves can make us feel whole, we will be driven to grasp at things. Dissatisfaction and anxiety will haunt us because we have traded Big Mind for a narrow, self-centered one. This unrest is what the Buddha called ignorance. We ignore our intrinsic wholeness.
The point of spiritual practice is to return to our original nature, which is Big Mind – the mind of clarity and wisdom, and Big Heart – the mind of compassion. When our mind is not divided, there simply is no conflict. In Zen we turn our own light inward to find our way back to original mind.
An easy exercise can give you a glimpse into the true nature of your mind. Take a few minutes to look inside and ask yourself this simple question. “How big is this mind?” Really look! Don’t imagine what you think you should find; look for yourself. Can you grasp the size of your mind? No, it is ungraspable. Can you find a beginning? an end? Can you find a birth or death? No. Anything that you find has been invented by the small mind.
In Big Mind we experience no separation, no outside, no inside, no point and no center. Even though we experience this incomprehensible Heart-Mind, our separate and frightened self wants to believe that something bigger than ourselves has everything in control; so we keep looking for God “out there.” The secret known by all the mystics is that God can be found only when we give up our efforts to control and understand our life. Such striving is really unnecessary. When we give up our small perspective and come from Big Mind what is there that we don’t know?
When we look inside and let go, we can come from Big Mind and see that there is no need to control any of it. When we allow everything to just be, it all functions perfectly, exactly the way we want because we give up wanting it to be any other way. The trick is to let go of wanting. When we give up our preconceptions of where the snow should fall and let it fall where it falls, then there is no question about what to do. Grab a shovel. Instead of fighting and resisting, we can simply take care of each situation as it happens. So put the car in neutral. Relax and let be. Appreciate how everything is functioning perfectly.
How easy is it to experience this Big Mind? The question is: How difficult is it to put aside the controlling self? It can take years, or with the right preparation, a few minutes. There is a breakthrough process leading directly to Big Mind. It’s a technique I’ve developed out of Hal Stone’s Voice Dialogue therapy. Through this approach we become acquainted with the different functions – the voices – of the small self; appreciate them and then ask them to step aside for a while, to allow the original mind to emerge.
One of the first voices to explore in this process is the voice of the Controller. Take a few minutes to experience this voice; appreciate its value in your practical life. Could you function without it? Now ask it to rest awhile. You may have been thinking the Controller was the real you, but get to know some other dimensions of yourself. There are many voices to explore on the way to Big Mind. The truth of the voices lies in their expression, their being. Be the voice of the Vulnerable Child. Sit with it. What is your vulnerable child like? Speak as the Protector, the Damaged Self, the Skeptic, the Seeker. Many on the spiritual path are already acquainted with the Seeker. It’s the mind that brings us to the path. Yet, can the Seeking Mind ever be what it seeks?
Now shift to the Non-Seeking mind. Let all objectives simply drop away and experience this space. One participant at a recent workshop describes his own experience: “Here [in non-seeking mind] is a sanctuary, entirely in the present, yet part of a continuum extending to the ends of the universe, incorporating birth and death. Here is ‘Big Mind’ encompassing everything.”
Whether you’re in that space or not, Big Mind is your mind.
— Dennis Genpo Merzel Roshi, 2003