Throwing Out The Furniture

An interview with scholar Mu Soeng and an excerpt from his new book, Trust in Mind

So how do we get the courage to let go of the furniture? By cultivating a trust that there is some kind of container to hold you—a trust in the inner spaciousness, so you don’t need to depend on the furniture. “Trust in mind” basically means trusting your own deepest experience. You take refuge in the utter contingency of life itself. But this trust becomes a Catch-22: in order to trust the contingency of life, you have to trust the trust itself. And that’s the hardest part.

Is Trust in Mind a poem for our times, for twenty-first-century America? Yes, because we have built a civilization of greed, which, left to itself, leads to aggression and violence and indifference to the plight of other people. I see the Buddha’s teaching and Sengsan’s poem as an antidote to this greed that we glamorize and worship and feel is the only way to be in the world. It is possible to create a civilization of kindness and compassion, but until we let go of the greed in our own lives, we can’t expect society to change. When we are all in the midst of a paradigm of greed and aggression, as we seem to be, then we are creating both collective and individual karma. The value of a mindful community is that when the community is aware of what greed does to the human mind, it lets go of its collective greed and allows the individual members to cultivate kindness and compassion. 

 

RADICAL TRANSFORMATION

Mu Soeng’s commentary on what he calls “probably the most important line” in the classic Ch’an poem, Trust in Mind

“Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.”

Searching for the Truth-with-a-capital-T ends up only reinforcing the sense of a separate self. The realization or direct apprehension of the nature of things is transformative (within the mind-body holos). We have been conditioned to believe that there is a Truth out there, and each religion claims to have a revelation that has some sort of copyright on this Truth. For Ch’an [Chinese Zen] and Buddhist traditions, by contrast, in the phenomena flowing endlessly like a mighty river there are only moments of realization when the curtain of ignorance is lifted and we are able to see clearly and directly that everything is dependently arisen, and nothing is self-sustaining. Radical transformation is indeed nothing more than ceasing to cherish opinions.

Not searching for the Truth and ceasing to cherish opinions are notcatatonic states, but rather conscious, vigorous engagements with our opinionated accumulations. The Taoists would call it wei wu-wei or “the doing of not-doing,” which is a proactive state of letting go of all views and opinions in a state of serenity or equanimity.

An alternate translation of this line—“Rather than focus on knowing the truth, simply cease to be seduced by your opinions” - speaks forcefully to our habitual patterns and behavior. Each one of us gets so seduced by our opinions about things large and small that this seduction itself becomes one of the core organizing principles of our lives. Western culture especially puts so much emphasis on cultivating and expressing opinions that it becomes the only acceptable way to be in the world. What would it be like if we could train ourselves to softly note “this is a deluded mind at work” each time an opinion is formed in the mind?

From Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen, © 2004 by Mu Soeng. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications.

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