Preserve the pure awareness of your brain, and make sure your mind is always there at all times. At every moment you must clearly understand that there is no way to change the past, and that everything in the future is built on the foundation of every moment here and now.You just have to do the tasks at hand with a peaceful mind, and listen to every sound that resonates from the inner mind, but you must not take these as directions you must obey.
Many times your mind decides the scene that appears before your eyes, and the appearance of every scene originates from your mind. When you are happy, you feel that the sunlight is bright and beautiful, and everything is sparkling. When you are not happy, you feel that everything is very disgusting, and when a little bird is actually singing a song for you, you take a slingshot and shoot at it, saying the bird was making noise to bother you. There is a poem that goes like this:
Hit out at the oriole,
Don’t let it twitter on the branch.
When it warbles, it startles the concubine from her dreams,
And she cannot reach western Liaoning.
What the poem is speaking of is this kind of situation. In the mind of that lovelorn woman, when the beautiful bird was calling, it became an irritating sound that woke her up from her beautiful dream.
Therefore we say, whatever kind of mind you have, you will see that kind of world. Is your view of it the true characteristic of the world? It is and it isn’t. For you, it is, because it exists in how you see it at a certain moment in time. For the world, it is not necessarily so, because the world is not the same in everyone’s eyes, and everyone’s way of looking at it is itself constantly changing. A certain friend once said that he though the last sage in the world was [the Confucian statesman and scholar] Zeng Guofan [1811-1872], but I told him that Zeng Guofan had killed many people, and the common folk all called him Shaven-Headed Zeng. After this, my fried no longer regarded Zeng Guofan as a sage. So then, what is the true characteristic of the world? It is flowing water, it is cells that are born and die off in seconds, it is change, it is emptiness. Understanding that the fundamental substance of the world is emptiness is not to say that all our actions are meaningless, nor does it signify that we must abandon everything, and do nothing. Rather, it implies that we must and we can experience human life with the mental attitude that we are experiencing a dream.
Let’s take an example. Since I know that worldly things are impermanent, and I can experience the bliss of that purity by myself, why do I still have to write this book? Why do I still have to say so many things? Why don’t I hide in the mountains like a hermit, or simply go home and grow crops? It is because I know that many people are living very painful lives because they do not understand the true characteristic of the world, and I would rather take my momentary life and use it to follow the example of the Buddha and of Confucius and the other sages of ancient times, and do something that benefits society, and say something that benefits society, and within this limited human lifetime, build something of true value. Of course, society may or may not be able to benefit from this, and all I can do is adapt to circumstances. This is what Buddhism calls “going along with the world.”
Many people think that the Buddhist notion of going along with the world means submitting to adversity, but in fact it is not so. When Buddhists propose going along with the world, they are recommending that people, on the basis of accepting their own fates in life as a whole, no matter whether good or bad, make the decision for themselves to choose wisdom. They must not forget the reasons why, or blame things on everyone else, and they must not let the world that is changing a thousand times in the blink of an eye change their own clear understanding and happiness.
What is true wisdom? How can you judge whether you have chosen wisdom, or passive escapism, or impulsive false action? Buddhism recognizes that if you have clearly understood the true mind, and you can use the true mind to do things at every moment, and you have no delusions at all, and no bonds at all, then you are a genuine person of wisdom, and you are choosing wisdom in every move you make.
So then, how can we put a stop to false thinking, and how can we know whether or not we are in the state of true mind?
In the sutras it has been said that at the same time we stop false thoughts, we can enter the state of true mind. The prerequisite for stopping false thoughts is that you must focus your attention on the things in front of you, and preserve pure wakefulness, and constantly observe the world of your own inner mind. This is also what we always speak of as “giving rise to alert awareness” and “maintaining the enlightened inherent nature.” This is because it is only when you are totally aware of the state of your inner mind, that you know whether or not you are engaged in chaotic thoughts, and only then can you speak of stopping false thoughts.
If you discover yourself giving rise to false thoughts, how should you handle it? You should not use another thought, a hint like saying “I must not engage in chaotic thoughts,” to try to repress them. Just do the things you must do, and treat those thoughts as passersby. You clearly perceive them coming, but you do not start chatting with them, much less curry favor with them: you just quietly watch them go. “You watch the swans go, hand strumming the five strings, content wherever you are, the wandering mind dark and mysterious.” You let the thoughts come and go by themselves. This way, they will not create any disturbances for your mind, and you will not stir up even more waves because you want to suppress one wave. This also means that you will not disturb the tranquility of your own inner mind by making overly vehement distinctions between true and false.
I’ll give you an example. You are writing a certain plan, and because you need to refer to similar cases, you go online and look for related information. But as you are searching for information, you see some news you feel is interesting, and so you put aside the job at hand, and browse through some web pages. While you are browsing through the web pages, you also begin to think of something you want to buy, and so you log into a shopping website, and after spending some time there you realize, hey, my plan is still not finished yet! You look at your watch, and actually several hours have gone by, and you fall into blaming yourself for this…
Why can it be like this? Because you were dragged off by the thought “I want to read the news,” and you kept on following this thought and the many other thoughts that this thought spawned, and went further and further, and completely forgot what you had been doing, and of course you also forgot the importance of the task. If you could have let that thought come and go by itself at the start, without going along with it, and also without driving it off, then the whole chain of events that came next would not have happened. This is why we say that the best method for dealing with false thoughts is to not follow them off, and manage it so that “when thoughts come you do not cling to them, and when thoughts go you do not follow them.”
If you have never observed the world of your inner mind, and you are not too clear about how specifically you must “observe” it, it is best to start by paying attention to your thoughts. Preserve the pure awareness of your brain, and make sure your mind is always there at all times. At every moment you must clearly understand that there is no way to change the past, and that everything in the future is built on the foundation of every moment here and now. You just have to do the tasks at hand with a peaceful mind, and listen to every sound that resonates from the inner mind, but you must not take these as directions you must obey. But this kind of listening cannot be too deliberate. If it is too deliberate, it will become another false thought. Paying attention and listening is done in order not to follow the false thoughts – not in order to take one false thought to repress another false thought, and not in order to create a new dualism.
But why is it that we must pay attention to false thoughts, and not directly recognize the true mind? It is because, for people who are first learning “observing,” there may be some difficulty here too. The true mind is something that transcends concepts, so it is very hard for you to recognize it by learning concepts. Even if you are in the state of true mind for a few moments, probably you will still not dare to believe it, or else you will not be able to recognize it. Luckily the true mind and the false mind are two faces of a single essence, and when the false mind stops, what appears must be the true mind.