The Practical Buddhist Blog – Practical Advice on Integrating the Practice of Buddhism in Contemporary Life


There is an extended line in my mantras that is based on the Heart Sutra and a classic Chinese poem called, “Affirming Faith in Mind.” It goes:

“Free of mental obstructions, I experience all things with dispassion*, free of labels, free of the intervention of my thinking mind, knowing that things are the way they are because it’s just they it is, it’s ok.   

And so my mind rests undisturbed, and when the mind rests undisturbed nothing offends; and when no thing offends, all obstructions cease to be, thought objects disappear.   

And so true faith pervades the mind, I know I have everything I need inside myself to be at peace and happy, all’s self-revealing, void, and clear without exerting power of mind.”

      * See my post “Dispassion Does Not Mean                    Without Feeling.”

The most essential aspect of Buddhist teaching, for example the Heart Sutra and the Four Noble Truths, is about being free of mental obstructions.   Craving is the core mental obstruction, but all our emotions, judgments, and attachments are also mental obstructions and mostly derive from our craving to be loved and secure.

The teachings about positive action . . .  the Noble Eightfold Path . . .  and others are also essential, but many teachers focus on these teachings to the exclusion almost of being free of mental obstructions, of the mind/ego.   The idea being that by taking consistent Right action, you are walking the path and replacing your former negative habits.   But as the Vietnamese Zen monks who taught me knew, and as I stated in my book, The Self in No Self, until we are free of mental obstructions, of the control of our mind, there is a limit to how far we can progress on the path because the mind won’t let us do Right anything.

As one of the monks said to us students after he had been teaching us for quite some time, “You are standing on the precipice.   You are not able to jump because your mind is still in control and you fear an ego-free unknown.   The choice is yours.   You have but to surrender your ego to your true Buddha nature.”   

It sounds so straight-forward, but it is far from simple.   It is a huge challenge because the mind has so much power over us.

The language he used was also a bit scary, even to me, (“precipice” and “surrender” are not comforting words).   And so I revised it to say, “You are on the verge of perfected wisdom but can’t move forward because your mind is still in control and you fear an ego-free unknown.   The choice is yours.   You have but to say, “Not me!” to the mind’s feelings and perceptions and instead turn your will and your life over to the care of your true self, which is your heart, your true Buddha nature.”

In speaking with other Buddhists, some have said to me not to speak in terms of freeing yourself from the control of the mind because it is too scary and will turn people away.   It’s all people have known, all they have identified with, their whole lives.   

But there is no other way to pass beyond a certain point on the path.   What I have done, however, is say that someone is exchanging their identity with their mind, which they will often admit is causing them suffering, to an identity with something they inherently know is safe and there for them . . .  their heart.   Their heart being light, love, faith, trust, compassion, humility, gratefulness, joy, contentment, strength, courage, and strength.

I ask people to remember cartoons they’ve seen with an angel sitting on one shoulder whispering advice in an ear and the devil sitting on he other whispering advice in the other ear, or of experiences they’ve had of an internal discussion between what people often label the “good” me and the “bad” me.  Where do those voices come from?  The angel or the “good” me is the heart; the devil or the “bad” me is the mind.

So these are not really foreign concepts.   One just needs to get comfortable to this new way of identifying who you are.


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