Monday, January 03, 2011

Mind Interacts with Matter

Famous Zen story. Two monks look at a flag flapping in the wind and one of them poses the question, "Is the flag moving or is it the wind moving?" They joust over this for a while.

Then a great teacher says to them, "It isn't the flag or the wind that is moving. It is your mind that is moving."

And then someone bangs the gong and the camera fades on two monks who are suddenly getting enlightenment from what the master said.

Except this is not yet complete. The master's contribution helps to complete the issue, but not quite. What is the master's mistake?

Years ago at Providence Zen Center, I was sitting and "just chillin'" with a monk. Told him I was coming down with a little cold.

He touched my arm and said, "You can decide not to have a cold."

Oh, that again. Separating mind from matter and then making mind the master. This idea sells a lot of books. The power of positive thinking to make the universe the way you want it to be. But this is desire, and desire tends to be a confusing influence.

And yet that same monk suffered from terrible sciatica after that conversation. Why didn't he decide not to have sciatica?

Our experience of the world is shaped by our thinking. The Buddha gave extensive teachings on that point, and you don't have to take his word for it. Pay close attention to the process and you'll see how much thinking makes our world. We can lift ourselves up or pull ourselves down, and we can adjust that attitude just as we would adjust our bodies so that we can breathe more fully and act in the world with greater ease. Silent retreats are fantastic opportunities to watch this process.

Yet this is not the same thing as deciding we can tailor our world, as in lucid dreaming. That's a fantasy.

Because mind interacts with matter. They are not two. Just as light is either a particle or a wave depending on how you look at it.

Not mind over matter, not matter over mind. So what is it?

Not the flag. Not the wind. Not your junky old mind, either.

Then what?


Karen P. said...

This reminds me of Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit. Not either-or but both.

JustDevin said...

Wouldn't an appropriate answer be, "The universe is moving, as is your mind"? All are in motion, all affected (and unaffected) by our comings & goings?

Ji Hyang said...

no one is so powerful as to control all karma, as our monk friend soon attained :)
(though there are DSSN's stories about "heart meditation" as I'm sure you remember, in Dropping Ashes.) Better for him to have said, "only get sick for all beings".... or, give you some nettle tea :)

Algernon said...

I do enjoy nettle tea. They actually sell it at the little health shop in our neighborhood.