Q: How effective are the various Buddhist practices in achieving an intuition or awakening of pure Mind?
A: In the big picture, not very effective. They work on trying to control the temporal life which is submerged in samsara; trying to reduce suffering. Lets say, for example, that I try to control the three poisons. I work on trying not to be deluded, or hateful, or greedy. This doesn’t really get me to the other shore of nirvana. It’s like trying not to avoid thinking about a green elephant by trying to keep my mental images ‘green elephant free’. But I know what the rule says. It says I can’t think of a green elephant. By trying to eliminate ‘X’, paradoxically, I still need X. I even reinforce it. It’s somewhat like being an atheist. I still need God in order to deny God. There is no moral or thou-shalt-not path to the other shore.
Q: I think am following you. It makes sense to me, but how do we get to the other shore?
A: By thinking of a red reindeer!
Q: [Laughing] Are you kidding?
A: No. Just think about it for a moment. Most practices are built upon avoidance of something—the green elephant—or at least try to control certain kinds of behavior. But awakening or sambodhi is positive—not negative. I have to see pure Mind. Not being an asshole will not get me to pure Mind. Acting piously by trying to avoid impious behavior, will also not get me to pure Mind. We have to be positive, hence, the red reindeer. It’s much easier. By trying to see pure Mind it is probable that I will reach the other shore. Think of The Ten Oxherding Pictures. The little oxherd boy is searching for the ox. This is positive. Working on koans is positive, too. By seeing pure Mind we answer the koan.
Q: I get the idea that we have to have someplace to go. I just can’t drive my car thinking that by avoiding my hometown of Fresno I will get to the Land of Jewels. Isn’t that right?
A: Yes. That is what irked me about studying Zen. Sitting so much in zazen was just a control issue. I learned that I could keep still for twenty or forty minutes. Big deal. Never once did my teacher say, “Search for pure Mind.” It is only during Bishop Nippo’s lecture at San Jose State that I realized that I had to seek, positively, like the little oxherd boy. I had to find the ox of pure Mind in my jungle mind. After a few years of reading D.T. Suzuki, I realized that real Zen is positive. Other forms and practices of Buddhism are not as positive.