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!”

The student puzzles over the words, saying, “What is this original state? Man’s original state was idiocy. Do the Zen teachers mean that I must go back to the state of idiocy? How can I? I must attain enlightenment!”

The next day the student returns to the temple. “How can I be an idiot?” he asks.

“Don’t speak! Be dumb!” his teacher cries.

“But teacher, my teacher…”

The teacher loses his temper and strikes the student. “Go back home, you idiot!”

And the student does not know what to do.

Today our state of mind is that of civilized man. But once we were primitive men, living in caves. If we trace back through more and more primitive states, we shall reach the period of inorganic life, when we were air, fire, water, earth, empty sky. In the most primitive state of all, however, there is no motion, no time, no space; there is no existence of any kind. That is the truly primitive state. Do you think that to go back to that state you must first become a caveman, then an amoeba, then ether? If you think thus you are indeed an idiot.

When a Zen teacher says, “Go back to your original state!” he does not ask you to become a caveman, an amoeba or ether. He asks you to become mind by itself, without words, without images, without any kind of notion. He asks you to root out from your mind all thoughts and the many names of many things. He asks you to get rid of all padding, to clear away all debris, to make your mind pure as pure water. This is the mind’s original state.

Keep only this pure mind in the “four dignities” of your daily life: sitting, lying, standing, walking. To sustain it you will come naturally to the practice of correct meditation. Dismiss all the thoughts which bother your mind. Train yourself during many days, many months, many years, to retain this pure mind. One day, when your empty mind has become crystallized, suddenly it will be illumined by its own intrinsic wisdom. At that instant you will realize the state of pure awakening.

“Intrinsic wisdom” I have said, for wisdom is intrinsic. It is intrinsic to us, it does not come from without. Keeping our mind pure like pure water all of a sudden we awaken to the fact that mind by itself is pure intrinsic wisdom. Then the entire world shines, all the universe is enlightened. In that moment we attain the state of “Nirvana with No Remainder.”

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