The Richest Reward

March 10, 2013

The only purpose in the practice of Zen is to master one’s mind and one’s own tools, which are thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you know how to manage your mind, you will know how to manage your reality. Everything will change if you elevate your thoughts and correct your actions.

A student once told me that she had been involved in an argument with her boyfriend. “Master,” she asked, “can you guarantee that if I change myself, my boyfriend will change too?” I said, “Yes.” I will illustrate this in simple terms: Imagine that a boyfriend and girlfriend are together in an apartment, talking. Soon, an argument occurs, so the girlfriend decides to leave. Once she leaves, the situation is no longer the same. The dynamic of the relationship has changed regardless of what the boyfriend does. However, if the girlfriend returns the situation is the same atsit was during the argument. So, change must occur within because we are the ones who must decide whether to argue or not and whether to stay or to leave. The results, or the realities, are simply extensions of our thoughts. A different person, who of course has a different personality, will have a different reality of his or her own.

Everything our minds generate, including thoughts, feelings and phenomena, appears and disappears simultaneously. Consider the sound as my fist strikes the table (I clap my hands). Now, let go of the sound. Why must you let go of it? After all, the moment the sound appears it is gone. It is impossible to hold onto it. The same is true of reality: It is ever-changing. Trying to hold onto what cannot be grasped is the cause of suffering. We try to hold onto our definitions of reality by repeating the same thoughts over and over again. It will never work, though, because reality cannot be grasped on the basis of a definition. Instead, if you can stop generating the same thought repeatedly, you will know what it means to let go and be free.

The mind is formless, but we allow it to become occupied by a habitual thought pattern. So, how can one let go? I will show you. If I hold an apple in my hand but reach for a pencil, I will automatically let go of the apple. My mind and muscle coordination will do that automatically. If you generate an angry thought, how can you let go of it? Generate a happy thought, and automatically you will release the angry thought. Initially, it is essential that we force ourselves to do this, because we lack practice. This is the positive, active way of letting go. Do not just say to yourself, “I want to let go, I want to let go . . . ,” over and over. You must instead practice letting go in order to achieve what you want.

Worry is another habit that clutters the mind. If you tend to talk about your worries, you will stay close to that reality and will have that foul odor. Actually, you can simply walk away from worries, but in order to do so you must realize the nature of the mind. Because the mind is formless and can generate thoughts, you are free to experience a new mental discipline. However, because freedom also comes with responsibility, you must practice it with care. You must be diligent as you seek the mastery of your mind. Be vigilant, or negativity could again emerge.

Thoughts, feelings and emotions are tools. They are part of the reality you create. Where the thought is, there is the reality. If you want to improve your external environment or relationship, you must first improve the inner environment of your mind.

I will use the following example: Many years ago, there was no boulevard in this area. After people found the area, they moved in and built houses and boulevards. In a vast, open landscape, we have created many boulevards, which then become the only paths we can take. So, we become restricted by what we have created. Similarly, in your mind you build a superhighway–a habitual pattern–that allows you to react to situations instantly. However, you lack freedom because you can only react according to the pattern. If you achieve the freedom of enlightenment, you can take any highway and boulevard you want; you can cultivate new paths without restriction. If you still have attachment–if you still have a strong ego–one day you will encounter a sign: “Detour.” When you see that sign, you will have to pull over and stop. You will think, “I am angry, and this is not right.” You cannot accept the fact that your way no longer works and has hit a wall. Every person has habitual thought patterns, but the sages and patriarchs remain free of such hindrances. As ordinary individuals, we are attached to the patterns we have created. A sage, upon seeing the detour sign, maintains a calm, peaceful mind and changes his attitude. However, as everyday people we have various complaints. We ask, “Why?” This is the kind of challenge we all face. No matter what we encounter, we must accept it.

You now understand the basic concept of personal reality as the world your mind has created. You understand that every person has a mind, which is formless but can generate thoughts. Moreover, you understand that the universe, in all its manifestations and dimensions, is held within the Mind, which is everlasting. All this should be a comfort to you, for you now realize that you are independent and free. You are one being, but you are neither alone nor forgotten. So, this can be your starting point; the genesis of your mission. Certainly that mission should be one of compassion and empowerment. You can take up the mission to see and accept the truth, as we all must in order to move forward. This is the opportunity to forgive all the errors of the past, live in the present moment and know yourself in the higher state of happiness and fulfillment. This is not a dream, because many before you have made the journey. Buddha himself did so, and countless others have followed in his path. Remember, the truth does not originate from the mundane human world but exists for all time and all realms. You will not find it by floundering on the sea of worry and confusion, nor will you find it by accident, like a coin on the pavement. Instead, you must open your mind and heart so that the truth can be revealed to you. At that point, everything you experience and perceive will be in balance. You will have happiness enough to fill a hundred lifetimes and the wisdom to share your joy with others.