The oceanic “true mind” is as even as the surface of a mirror, but when external objects are reflected in it, it is like the wind blowing and waves arising on the great ocean, and then false mind appears. When we use the power of wisdom or discipline to fend off the enticements of the external world and keep them outside the mind, then the ocean of the great mind slowly quiets down again. That state without waves or ripples is the true mind.
In my book The Wolves of Xi Xia, I described a “woman” called White Robe. She was a ghost who had almost been dispelled. Why had she almost been dispelled? Because most people do not believe in the existence of spirits, and this kind of doubt was constantly dispelling her, until in the end, even she began to doubt herself. Later, Hei Geshou’s appearance rescued her. This process in fact also occurs in the world of our inner minds. When we are slaves to desire, we constantly use a kind of utilitarian thinking to dispel our own spirits, and to dissolve away those yearnings of our inner minds to go toward the spiritual. We do not know that we can only realize a kind of relative eternity in those yearnings, but instead we keep on always seeking the eternal in the empty, illusory, impermanent external world. This kind of ignorance constantly dissolves away our power to find happiness; luckily the true mind is quietly waiting all along in that now hidden, now apparent place in our minds. It has no beginning and no end; it is not born and it is not extinguished. It will not be dissolved away because we misunderstand it, and it will not be obliterated because we overlook it. In the Diamond Sutra it says: “They come from nowhere and go nowhere, so they are called the Tathagatas, the ones who come from reality.” This Tathagata is the true mind.
Although the true mind is fundamentally inherent, many people are not able to recognize it. When you are not clear about the true mind, then the false mind will drag you off, and you will become an ordinary person. But sometimes the true mind and the false mind will keep battling. When the true and false attack each other, it will seem that you have become two people, and your personality will begin to split, and you and the other you will keep fighting.
In Western animated films they have taken this kind of “split personality” and given it form: they take the “true mind” personality and make it into an angel, and take the “false mind” personality and make in into a devil. When they receive a certain external stimulus, the confrontation between the angel and the devil breaks out in the world of the person’s inner mind and cannot be resolved. This metaphor is really very true to life. In Buddhism we often talk about “conquering the demons,” but these demons are not some kind of demons in the form of humans or animals: they are the false thoughts that delude the human mind. False thoughts reflect human desires and biased perceptions, and represent an aspect of the animal nature of our inner minds. They are a kind of delusion that can use the false to confuse the real, and they are also a kind of blindfold. They do not want to let us see the real characteristic of things, and so they are constantly crawling around by our ears whispering, throwing our tranquility into confusion, and preventing us from listening to the voice of the true mind, especially when we are not clear about the true mind. What they point toward isusually the greedy desires of hungry ghosts, the anger and hatred of asuras, and the stupidity and ignorance of animals.
If you cannot clearly understand the true mind, and you blindly follow the direction of false thoughts, then there will be absolutely no way for you to reach that other shore of your dreams, and no way to reach absolute happiness and freedom. This is because, when you are tangled up in false thoughts, you always take those false thoughts as “the other” and your own mind as “myself.” Then a strong dualism will appear in your mind, and in this dualism, you will make a clear division between yourself and the external world, and no matter what you do, you will always have to separate “you” and “I.” I lose something, you gain something. Originally it should belong to my things, but you took it away. I spent so much, but you did not give me the corresponding return. … These things are all fundamentally empty illusory memories, no matter whether you gained or you lost; they are all impermanent apparent forms, and in basic substance they are one thing. But when you are lost in confusion due to false thoughts, then you will mistake the false for the true, and take illusory perception as true reality, and do all kinds of stupid things, and these actions will bring on the corresponding karmic force. If you build a good causal basis, you go up, and if you build an evil causal basis, you go down – thus you revolve in the six planes of existence. But even then, the true mind is still unmoved and unshaken. It is like a pine tree rooted in bedrock: though the branches may shake, the trunk is still firmly rooted. When you abide in peace in the true mind, you understand that all things are dreams, illusions, bubbles, undergoing myriad changes every instant, not worth being concerned with – then illusory forms melt away like dewdrops in the blazing sun.
Thus we say that illusory thoughts are very much to be feared. They can take you far away from love and wisdom, and make you cling to empty illusory individual gain and loss, and take simple things and make them complicated. They can also make you sink down into inexplicable emotions, and make you waste a lot of the time you have alive. They use misunderstanding to shatter your good fortune and happiness, and even make you descend into empty illusory pain and suffering, so you feel that you have no strength to go on living. Only when you recognize the true mind, and abide in peace in the true mind, will you be able to get free of the deceptions and control of the false mind, and see through all false appearances, and directly reach the most plain and simple true characteristic.
To see the true mind, to recognize the true mind, to focus on the true mind, to preserve awareness of the true mind – this is what in Buddhism we call “becoming enlightened.” After you become enlightened, the false mind still exists. It is like when a wave appears in the ocean, and the surface of the water is no longer flat as a mirror. The oceanic “true mind” is as even as the surface of a mirror, but when external objects are reflected in it, it is like the wind blowing and waves arising on the great ocean, and then false mind appears. When we use the power of wisdom or discipline to fend off the enticements of the external world and keep them outside the mind, then the ocean of the great mind slowly quiets down again. That state without waves or ripples is the true mind. When waves move in the mind, then the false thoughts are born. When false thoughts stop, then the true mind is revealed. For example, between this thought and the next thought, there is a state without thoughts. When you use your inherent nature or your mind of lucid awareness to observe it, then it is very easy for you to merge with true mind.
After you are clear about the mind, all you have to do is preserve this true mind – that is the best cultivation. At this time, you must stay far away from the discriminating mind, and not let those concepts throw your mind into confusion. Cultivating practice in Buddhism implies cultivating the “true mind” – letting your inherent spark of wisdom that can ignite a prairie fire become the flame of wisdom, and burn away all your greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, and doubt, until in the end all that is left is a single expanse of clear light. At this point you can finally be reckoned as having reached the ultimate achievement. What is the ultimate achievement? It is that nothing in this world can shake your tranquility and joy, and nothing can make you its slave. In other words, when you reach the ultimate achievement, you will have an absolute freedom and happiness.
So then, how will you be able to see the true mind? The classic schools of Buddhism left us many expedient methods. For example, chanting the sutras and beating time on a wooden fish are to stabilize the mind, using cadence and rhythm to dissolve away false thoughts. When false thoughts dissolve, and you reach a kind of ultimate tranquility, then you will see the true mind. The eight-four thousand teaching methods in Buddhism are all for the purpose of enabling people to find this true mind. To choose which method to use, you must see which method is the most appropriate for you.