I was quite surprised when I came home the other day. I saw how various plants had sprung out of pots full of barren, dry soil.
We had planted flowers in those pots last year, but when winter came, the flowers dried out, and there was just dry soil left. However, spring woke up the several sleeping plants that I’d left for dead. When the conditions were right, the plants woke up.
By coincidence, my mind was peaceful and awake, because I’d just got back from a five-week meditation retreat. This ordinary event therefore felt more impressive to me. I was very peaceful with no negative thoughts on my mind thanks to five weeks of intensive meditation.
Suddenly, I encountered a jealous feeling that tried to catch me off guard after I read an article about a person I knew some time ago, 30 years ago actually. It was not an uncomfortable situation for me, nor did I need to compare myself to him. But as soon as I noticed this feeling, I asked myself, “What do I not understand here? Or what am I misunderstanding?”
If you were to ask me what I have inside my mind, I would answer without hesitation, “In general, I’m cheerful, peaceful, affectionate, awake, observant, aware, and generous.” After a years-long process of purification, my mind is generally in a peaceful and happy state. This has continued long enough that I have freed myself from uneasy mind settings in my meditation. Even though anger, desire, and greed still come to mind, they cannot take hold of me. In short, my mind is in good condition. Fine, but if my mind is in such a perfect state, why am I not “enlightened”?
To gain a better understanding of this, we can use meditation practice as an example. Let’s say you’re practicing breathing meditation, and your mind relaxes and turns calm, because it’s no longer taken over by negative thoughts and feelings. Your strong concentration enables you to focus on breathing, so your awareness keeps these negative states from your mind as you breath drops through your awareness zone.
If you want an illustration, when your mind is calm, your awareness does not allow a wind to blow over it. Your mind is more like the surface of a still lake. In the meantime, your breath sinks to the bottom of the water. It feels almost like you’re not breathing. You cannot find your breath. Some novice practitioners of meditation can be taken with fear, thinking that their breathing has stopped. When this happens, they breathe more strongly and take themselves out of this state, thus disturbing their minds. Experienced meditators, meanwhile, know that their breath has not stopped. They know it’s just their awareness calming down more than they can sense.
When we are in this state long enough, our concentration strengthens our awareness, which then expands and grows by taking our breath, which has become still in a very deep state. Then, and only then, our breath will greet us like an old buddy. We say, “Oh, hi! There you are,” to our breath. It’s just like me saying to my jealousy, “Oh, hello! There you are!”
When the immortal Taoist Lü Dongbin travels the entire world with Cengiz Han, he learns one of his eight students is meditating deeply in a cave. When he visits his student, the student opens his eyes and welcomes his master. Lü Dongbin asks the student what he is doing.
The student replies, “I am meditating, Master.”
“Why?” asks Lü Dongbin.
“In order to discover the real nature of my mind and to become a Buddha,” the student replies.
Lü Dongbin says nothing more and leaves his student to meditate. Shortly afterwards, he picks up two stones from the floor and starts rubbing them together. After a while, the grating sound gets annoying.
The student interrupts his meditation and opens his eyes. He asks, “What are you doing, Master?”
Lü Dongbi shrugs his shoulders and replies as if saying something very ordinary, “I am making a mirror.”
Surprised at this, the student asks, “Surely it’s impossible to make a mirror by rubbing two stones together, Master?”
Lü Dongbin turns to his student and replies, “Well, then it’s probably unlikely you’ll become a Buddha by goofing off.”
It is surely nice to have a peaceful and happy mind. Just like the empty ground in my garden before spring, the seeds of anger, arrogance, fear, worry, desire, greed, and jealousy in my mind are calm, peaceful and happy until the conditions are right for them to spring to life. Even though my mind is at peace, I am not yet an enlightened being. That’s why even though peace, happiness and joy is nice, the experiences that allow me to become aware of the seeds that disturb this peace are incredibly precious. A traveler on the path to enlightenment learns to be always grateful for the experiences that allow him to see these seeds in his mind. These experiences present an opportunity to safely purify our minds from them, because once we’re in one of these negative states of minds, we can do little about them.
Buddha said that trimming a harmful plant from the top will not kill it. We need to understand that even though we meditate and use its peace to trim down the harmful plants, happiness and wellbeing is not stable unless we pull them out at the roots.
Therefore, we need to learn to open our arms to experiences that will help to wake us up, increase our awareness, and help us to become aware of the harmful plants and seeds in our minds.
Just like Lao Tzu says:
Disfavor and elevation surprises the person equally.
Love the big unhappiness as if it is yourself.