If we sincerely wish to awaken from our sleep of ignorance, a sleep that causes us to transmigrate from one temporal container to another, we have to awaken to the nature or pure substance of Mind. When we look at our ordinary thoughts we are ignorant of the fact that they are made of Mind. For us they are just thoughts, nothing more. This is because we haven’t as yet awakened to the luminous Mind of which they are composed.
The relationship of pure Mind to thought is illustrated by Fa-tsang’s Essay on the Golden Lion. When Fa-tsang was explaining the recondite Avatamsaka Sutra to the Emperor, the latter became puzzled. He couldn’t wrap his mind round what Fa-tsang was trying to teach him. To help the Emperor, Fa-tsang used the statue of the golden lion that was guarding the palace hall, as a means of helping the Emperor grasp the essence of the Sutra.
Of the substance or element represented by gold, which is really the luminous Mind, Fa-tsang described it as “clear, pure, all-perfect, and luminous.” Tsang said it was the substance of the Dharma-nature. It is never stained nor does it require purification. There is no obscurity that this luminous substance cannot illumine.
On the other hand, the ‘lion shape’, itself, Fa-tsang went on to explain, is devoid of gold, hence, its emptiness. When we think about it, outside of the gold, the shape or form is really nothing. The lion is an illusion. Nevertheless, it is a creation of Mind which demonstrates Mind’s great inherent power to shape itself.
Moving on, we can envision our thoughts to be like the golden lion and the pure, or luminous Mind to be like the gold from which our thoughts are made. While it is easy to get the meaning of this, it takes almost a lifetime’s journey to get past the bewitching thought-shapes—and see the golden Mind!
Zen master Bassui (1327–1387) takes this up in much the same way but uses a different analogy. (The following is taken from Thomas Cleary’s book, The Original Face. My only change to Cleary’s translation has been to capitalize ‘m’ in mind.)
“This Mind is originally pure: when the body is born, it shows no sign of birth; and when the body dies, it has no sign of death. Neither is it marked as male or female, nor has it any form, good or bad. Because no simile can reach it, it is called the enlightened nature, or Buddha nature.
Furthermore, all thoughts arise from this inherent nature like waves on the ocean, like images reflecting in a mirror. For this reason, if you want to realize your inner Mind, first you must see the source of thoughts arising. Whether awake or asleep, standing or sitting, deeply questioning what thing is your inner Mind with the profound desire for enlightenment, is called practice, meditation, will, and the spirit of the way. Questioning the inner Mind like this is also called zazen.
One moment seeing your own Mind is better than reading ten thousand volumes of scriptures and incantations a day for ten thousand years; these formal practices form only causal conditions for a day of blessings, but when those blessings are exhausted again, you suffer the pains of miserable forms of existence” (p. 94).
Notice how Bassui treats the Mind as the substance. Our birth body is just a form, like the form of the golden lion. Turning to our thoughts, Bassui sees them to be like ocean waves in which Mind is the water element. Bassui is absolutely correct in saying that one moment of seeing our own Mind is better than reading the entire Tripitaka.
Zen is no non-sense Buddhism. It strips away the superfluous.