In praise of the virtues of ordinary mind

5) In praise of the virtues of ordinary mind

Years ago I read a book called Zen mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunyrn Suzuki.  I don’t remember much about it, but the title stuck with me, and during my own years (over 35 now) of introspection, prayer and meditation I kept finding myself facing a rather odd question.  Is there anything wrong or insufficient about ordinary mind or consciousness?

This question would really come strongly to me, when I would be reading about, or being in discussions concerning, the ideas of enlightenment or initiation.  The existential dilemma was basically that here I was in ordinary mind, more or less always, yet I had this idea of satori, or initiation, being some kind of permanent condition into which I would eventually arrive.  In fact, the more I desired and struggled to reach a different state than the one I was in, the more I felt a kind of wrongness.  Eventually I began to rebel against this idea in my mind that took any form of achievement over whatever was my true current inner condition.  My state of being was what it was, and I saw no point anymore in viewing it as if it was defective, less than, or in any other comparative way of thinking, not quite right.

After a time, I began to realize that what was changing was not my ordinary state of mind, but my skill in exercising its natural capacities.  My will became more and more capable of doing certain things, when I needed (not necessarily wanted) it to do so, while at the same time the ordinary rest state of mind, with all its wanderings and confusions, was just fine.  In fact, what I was slowly growing into was this will.  Recall above that I wrote of the i-AM as a verb not a noun.  It is in doing that we are most ourselves, for in doing we are expressing (being) our essential and true self.

Clearly we are each meant to go our own way, so there is little to be gained by looking at some other person and thinking to ourselves that we should have some kind of inner state we imagine them to have.  Far better it became, in my experience, to accept and love our ordinary mind, and just conceive that we are learning what we choose to learn and that those choices lie entirely in our arena of choice – such that the goals of others, or the state of being of others, is of little moment.  We become and change in the manner in which we choose to become and change, and that is all that counts.

In the West, especially America, this becoming more takes the form of character development, than it does the reaching for enlightenment or initiation.   Further on in the Evolution of Consciousness, I expect we will become more and more universally human, and as that process unfolds, character development, enlightenment and initiation will become themselves a unity.  But that is for the future.

Just as clearly, for example and to experience, the Divine Mystery loves us as we are – unconditionally, and completely.  In fact, the more we see through the vanity in the desire to be something else, the more we are able to stop judging others as needing themselves to be something different, or to meet our expectations of what they should be, or become.

One of the paradoxes of this view, is that it is also part of ordinary mind to make these exact kinds of comparisons.  When we simply rest in the state of ordinary mind, it is full of its endless chatter, what Choygam Trungpa called discursive thinking (or sometimes the oscillations of the citta).  We might call it the dialog between the spirit (the i-AM) which speaks, and the soul which hears – as in how the mother yells from the kitchen to the rowdy children in the living room: “Stop making that noise, I can’t hear myself think!”.

The advantage of ordinary mind is that this state is where we all naturally are.  To be in ordinary mind is to be right where we are meant to be, while at the same time being in exactly that place where we are most companionable with others, most able to live in that face of love we call comradeship.  At the same time, our efforts over the years have led to certain skills, which are always latent in the soul.  Moreover, these are just those skills we have chosen to develop.  This means that when we choose to act within ordinary mind in order to do something in the realm of our inner life that we have taught ourselves to do, this skill (capacity, gift, art) lies there always in potential awaiting our willing it forth.

It is in fact the qualities of character that has given birth to these skills that become an aspect of our eternal nature and thus survive the passage at the end of life we know as the death or end of the physical body, although Rudolf Steiner has advised that we have to birth the actual skills anew once more in each life.

So, if we notice we are excessively judging someone from our ordinary mind, we also might have learned, in traveling the path through the Narrow Gate, to master this in the soul, should we so choose.  Yet, we may well not want to master it.  This feeling of judgment arising in the soul might actually belong to the situation and need to be expressed.

Steiner spoke of what he called righteous anger, and gave as an example Christ’s yelling and overturning the tables in the Temple.   Much arises in ordinary mind, precisely because ordinary mind has a very appropriate and necessary part to play.  In point of fact, entering the Narrow Gate only means to begin to wake up within – nothing more.

What we do through introspection, prayer and meditation is develop capacities that would otherwise lie latent in the soul.  Moral grace, freedom and love are three of these presently essential capacities.  It is the will that learns to do – it is the will which is the truest expression of our verb-ness, our i-AM.  At the same time, ordinary mind is the truest and most important inner context for this will.

As a consequence, as we wake up and learn, our will will naturally more and more express and impress itself on this context we call ordinary mind. We are already active there anyway, and some of you who read this will be already waking up as to this wondrous landscape that lies waiting for us in ordinary mind.

There is no need to overthrow or get rid of ordinary mind.  Rather we simply learn to appreciate and master its already existing virtues.  However, the word master can give us some trouble here, so let me next elaborate on that.

The application of the forces of our will in ordinary mind is not meant to be like a sledge hammer.  Rather it is more like what we played with as children – a kind of butterfly-kiss.  In ordinary mind, soul and spirit intermingle, and to the extent we want to differentiate them, one from the other, we need to tease them apart.  This is our own soul that our spirit is learning to master, and this mastery has to be as much an act of love, as are the acts of love from a parent toward a child.   We are gentle with ourselves, we nurture ourselves, we forgive ourselves, and most important – most important – we laugh at ourselves.

Have you even wondered why some of the enlightened ones, and some of the true initiates, are always laughing and smiling?  It is because being a human being is funny!  There they are, with all these folks coming around and wanting advice and teaching, and the enlightened ones – the initiates – know that everything they know, you know.  We just don’t let ourselves know we know.  So there we are, asking them questions we need to ask ourselves, and it is funny.  Not because we are being funny, but because the real teacher is laughing at himself, for there he is indulging our need and giving us that which lies in his/her ordinary mind, that also lies, at the same time, within our ordinary mind.

Why? Because through the Narrow Gate lies the same realm, available to anyone who learns the practical meaning of: lest ye become again as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

The truths we need to know at any given moment are right there available to ordinary mind.  The only skill we may lack is how to frame questions, and how to keep these questions rooted in the real need of the moment.  After that, its all about: ask and you shall be answered, seek and you will find, knock and it will be open up to you.

At the same time that I say the above, it will perhaps help to consider some differences between Buddhism, Christianity and some of the wisdoms of aboriginal peoples in America, or between the path of the the bodhisattvas, the path of initiates and the path of seeking to be fully human on the Earth.

The path of the bodhisattvas is now a path that sacrifices the final goal (achieving Nirvana) in order to remain on the wheel of incarnations until all sentient beings can be enlightened.  The path of the initiates is a path that sacrifices personal desire in order to serve the Beings of the higher world, so that Their contributions can manifest in the lives of humanity.  The bodhisattvas develop and evolve the human (what the Buddha did), and the initiates bring in the voice of the Gods (what Moses did).

Distinct from these, the aboriginal peoples seek character, for whatever gifts one has, whether one is to become a teacher of mysteries or merely a good carpenter, it is out of our developed character that those around us, visible and invisible, will receive what they need.

Now the i-AM has both a Buddha Nature and a Christ Impulse latent within it, as well as a basic need to be merely human.  Where the Buddha developed fully the human capacity for Compassion, the Christ brought to us the Father’s teaching concerning Love.  So the i-AM, as well, has capacities to develop the highest in the human, and to be open to and receive from above (and below – let us not forget the realm of the Mother) the highest which yet lies outside ourselves.  At the same time we are always involved in becoming just ourselves – our individuality.  This individual personality (in its highest and most human sense) is the real earthly core of our being.

Within ordinary mind these three capacities are latent (and always, at the same time, manifesting), and will express themselves even more as we enter the Narrow Gate, and begin to wash out the inside of our own cup, our own inwardness.  Yet, it is also this third aspect, which we have begun to notice when we look at the biography (for in the biography – as Native Americans understand – character develops) that has its own special nature.  This is the changes that arise in the will, especially in regards to how the individual i-AM treats and respects other i-AMs.  As we know, this development of character unfolds in the biography through what Steiner called: “trials of fire“.   Out of trials of fire grows the will-on-fire (character) of the developing i-AM, and since the biography is overseen most closely by Christ, now we can see once more what John the Baptist meant, when he said, in Matthew 3: 11: “I indeed baptize you with water, for repentance.  But he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to bear.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” {Now I bathe you in water to change hearts, but the one coming after me is stronger than me: I’m not big enough to carry his shoes.  He will bathe you in holy breath and fire.}.  For Holy Spirit and holy breath we have learned to also use the term gnosis, and for fire we learned to also use the terms the trials of life in the biography.  Christ approaches us from two directions – inwardly with the breath of spirit in gnosis, and outwardly with the challenges of life in the biography.  And we?   We think about what we are receiving, from both within and without.  We, in this thinking, unite the inner and the outer into their natural unity (for a time forgotten under the aegis of science – the necessary descent into materialism, or the Ahrimanic Deception).  Inner and outer are not separate, but rather are one, whole and complete.

What a grace given gift is ordinary mind!

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