Edited Dharma talk given by Ani Tenzin Palmo
Cambridge Zen Center, Cambridge, U.S.A., 1st June, 1997

Discover the True Nature of Our Minds

The nature of the mind is like the vast sky, like a huge, blue endless sky, very clear, very, very deep and stretching in all directions. It's vast and infinite and clear and empty and transparent and luminous. That is the nature of the mind. Our thoughts and feelings and memories are the clouds appearing in the sky. Sometimes the clouds are white and fluffy and we're happy. Sometimes they're big and black and there's thunder and lightning and we're utterly distraught. But either way, they donít affect the nature of the sky. However black they are, the sky is not solid. However light and pretty they are, the sky is not any more beautified. You cannot make the sky any purer or dirtier. The sky is just something that is, and it's transparent and luminous and clear. So why not identify with the sky rather than with the transitory clouds? If we realized that all the thoughts and emotions that come up in our minds are just the play of the mind and that the mind is a vast ocean, to use another metaphor, and that these thoughts and feelings are just waves that rise and sink back into the ocean again, we would realize that we should not take them too seriously.

When you sit and meditate, if you sit with sincerity, then you are definitely able to at least glimpse this transparent nature of the mind and from that, at least, touch who you truly are which is something infinite and vast. Usually, because we identify with the transitory personalities we happen to be assuming in this lifetime, we seem to be such little solid masses, one against the other. It's me and everything that is non-me. Everyone else is out there, and then there's me. Everyone is thinking me, me, me. But when we touch the nature of the mind, which is our true nature, our Buddha nature, then we see that, of course, we are actually all completely connected. The sky is not one sky and then thereís another sky and then another. There's just sky, and it is infinite and vast. It is not my sky versus your sky. It is not my Buddha nature versus your Buddha nature. It's just Buddha nature. There's just mind. Therefore, we are all very intricately interconnected with each other.

When we realize this, then we realize that just as we wish only to receive kindness, respect and love from others, so also others would like to receive these things from us because others are us at a very profound level. Which brings me to the second point which is that it is very important in our practice to not simply develop through the head, through the intellect, to learn how to clarify the mind, but also to learn how to open up the heart.

Buddhahood consists of the unity of wisdom and compassion, wisdom and love. Wisdom alone is not enough. It's like the two wings of a bird. You cannot have one wing without the other wing. You need both wings in order to fly. When our minds become a little settled, a little more peaceful, a little clearer, then we are able to see things more clearly, with less confusion, with less self-reference. We begin to see things as they really are. And when we begin to see things as they really are, one of the first things of which we become aware is the pain of others.

Now, most of us go around - successfully or unsuccessfully - putting on a brave front, trying to be as cheerful and look as competent as we can. But scratch the surface a little and you come across this enormous mass of confusion and pain and uncertainty and hurt which so many people carry around and don't know what to do with. Now, just as we, when we are suffering, need someone to at least look at us with kindness, so all beings want that. It's not that we all want to immediately rush off and join Mother Teresa. But at least in our lives, in our everyday lives, meeting the people with whom we meet, we should treat each one with respect and kindness. Is that too much to ask? Again and again, one finds that when people take up a Buddhist practice, they become very cold. I wonder why. There is so much talk about compassion. But often it ends up being rather intellectual. It doesn't seem sometimes to percolate down into people's hearts. So people are not spontaneously kinder, are not necessarily the sorts of people that one would actually go to with one's problems. Even in Sanghas, people are polite with one another, but are they kind? After all, if you are in a Sangha, you are each other's family. If you're not nice to each other, then to whom can you be nice?

When we talk about our practice we say that we are practicing the Bodhisattva path and the Bodhisattva path is to save all sentient beings. But just who are these sentient beings? I mean, it's nice and easy to sit on one's carpet and say, ĎWell, I'm going to save all sentient beings.í It's very comfortable to feel altruistic and think that. But then you go home and you meet your husband or your wife or your mother or your father or whomever and they do something to annoy you and you completely blow up. The fact is that for all our talk about love and compassion, we must look at ourselves and say, ĎAre we actually nicer people for all this? Have we actually become kinder? Is our heart really warmer than it was when we started?í If it is, then very good, keep going. If it isn't, then we're in trouble.

Our practice has to be from the heart. If our practice isn't from the heart, it has no validity. The head is the computer, but the genuine mind is at a much profounder level than that. When we talk about mind in Buddhism, we don't just mean the intellectual side of it but the whole emotional part, the intuitive, the very deep level of our being which does not reside up in the head. So if our sitting practice is all up in this computer part of the brain there will never be any very profound transformation. We have to bring our practice downwards. It has to permeate through our whole body, every cell of our body. This is a very, very crucial point.

We are very head-oriented in the West. Those of you who have been meditating for any length of time have, I'm sure, experienced moments when the mind, or the computer, fell away and you were in another state of consciousness, one much clearer and vaster than our normal state of consciousness. This is the consciousness we have to connect with. When we connect with this consciousness our hearts open up and genuine love and compassion appear. When we have this genuine profound insight which is completely linked and combined with spontaneous love and compassion - even if only for just a short time - then we know we are genuinely on the Buddhist path. Until then, as long as our practice is still basically theoretical, or basically still head-oriented, we have quite a long way to go. Once we genuinely reach to the profound levels of our Buddha nature then we can really start to meditate.

Of course, insight into our true nature is not the end of the path; it's the beginning. Therefore, while itís important, and wonderful, to sit every day, itís also important to bring that quality of mind as much as possible into your everyday life. At the same time, cultivate a softness, a kindness, realizing that every being in front of you is trapped just as you are in Samsara, and like yourself, needs a little kindness. If you cannot manage that much, then why are you saying that you are doing this for all sentient beings? Those beings include your family, your colleagues, people that you meet in your everyday lives, when going to work and in your social lives. It is very important that you realize that each person in front of you is unique and uniquely important because they are the one person in front of you. Therefore, they are, at that moment, your Dharma practice. Where else is your Dharma practice?

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