These are the three tersest, most complete statements about the nature of mind, the nature of reality — brought to you by Zen, of course (with the wonky expression of Joscha Bach for techy types):
From Plato to Joscha Bach, this view has been expressed myriad ways, yet rarely ever so cleanly. There is not room for a single speck of dust. People sometimes cock their heads when they hear this airtight pointing from the first Chan (Zen) Patriarch, Bodhidharma (~440-~528 CE). Because of translation, in different situations I would often translate “mind” here as “thinking-mind”. Then people seem to get it. Those experienced in meditation don’t need this translation tweak. But for those with less or no experience, the extra clarification makes the expression that much more accessible, I’ve learned.
Well, their “thinking-mind” gets it. For the meaning to truly land, they would need to practice some attention to their don’t-know mind.
But it is true and complete, lacking not an iota of truth. It is a snake that does not need the legs I sometimes paint on it, in explanation. Yet those legs are also kind of OK.
And this snake needs no legs. It says the same thing, just from another angle:
Out of design, Zen Master Seung Sahn’s expression might actually surpass them both, and not only in his super-diminished word-count:
His imperative “Only don’t know!” ranks right there with the both of these other eminent masters. In fact, because his often-barked phrase is also a directive — not just a pointing or description, like his Chinese and Japanese co-conspirators, but a clear and emphatic “Just do it!” superhighway speeding us precisely towards how to arrive at the “something” that these other greats are pointing to — his teaching wins the day. From moment to moment.
And, for what it’s worth, here is the expression of a modern thinker — Joscha Bach (b. 1973), the young cognitive scientist whose work focuses on cognitive architectures, models of mental representation, emotion, motivation, and sociality. It’s Bodhidharma, Suzuki Roshi, and Seung Sahn Sunim, something wordy and conceptual for really, really wonky types. But he also truly gets the job done, so sweetly and with a subtle touch of that German wryness: