Image courtesy of First Zen Center of America.
Image courtesy of First Zen Center of America.

Teachers of Zen have a favorite saying, “Return to your original state!” To return to the original state means, in a word, “Go back home!” “Original state” signifies “original state of mind.”

What is this original state of mind? Buddha spoke of the original state of mind, calling it avidya—original darkness. Of course Buddha did not say, “Return to your original darkness!” He said, “Emancipate yourself from original darkness! Come forth from original darkness to the enlightened state!” And he taught that this emancipation was to be attained by attaining Nirvana.

The state of original darkness and the state of enlightened Nirvana are one and the same. It is like looking at a bronze gong. From the bottom it appears to be a bell; from the top it seems to be a gong. In reality, however, it is only one gong.

Nirvana is a reaching-point, a goal. But Nirvana is also the home to which we are returning. We use the words “original state of mind” to denote both our home and our destination.

The teacher says, “Go back to your original state!”

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