Mind itself, like the sky, is originally pure.
As long as you use conceptual knowing to look for it,
You get stuck, like a bug caught in its own spit.
With strong determination, you turn your back on what is truly meaningful.How worn out you must be, you listeners, from rejecting everything!
What does it mean to say mind itself, or the sky, is originally pure? Just for a moment, recall what it’s like to be stopped, completely stopped, by a painting, a piece of sculpture, a dance, or beautiful view. You, as a separate entity, cease to be and there is just the experience, vivid and clear. There is no need to reject (or attach to) anything. Thoughts, feelings and sensations arise on their own and dissolve on their own.
Originally pure? In all honesty, this is an unsatisfactory English rendering, bordering on Bunglish (Buddhist Hybrid English) and it would be good to find a more poetic, less literal expression. (If you have any suggestions, please use the comments link below.) While one could take this as a philosophical statement (and many have done so and built their systems on it), the phrase “originally pure” is more a description of an experience, made with the intention to elicit a similar experience in the person who reads or hears this phrase.
Technically speaking, the phrase “originally pure” means that the sky is the sky, whatever is going on in it. Clear or cloudy, rainy or sunny, the sky is the sky. Violent hurricanes or typhoons, calm breezes, fog, mist, clouds, snow, rainbows, or the aurora borealis, the sky is still the sky. When you look into the sky, clouds and rainbows form and dissolve, arising from nothing and dissolving back into nothing. The sky remains — open clear space.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter what thoughts, feelings or sensations arise, mind is mind, experience is experience, awareness is awareness. Thoughts, feelings and sensations arise out of nothing and dissolve back into nothing. The only difference is that we are the sky. Awareness is not something that we watch (such as clouds in the sky). It is what we are. Experience and awareness are not separate.
There is no point in trying to understand this intellectually or conceptually. All we are doing then is becoming more entangled in thinking. When we just listen to teachings, even if we take them in and work with them, our understanding tends to be largely conceptual. In effect, we end up talking with ourselves and can easily become convinced that we have a sound experiential understanding— of emptiness, of compassion, of non-duality, etc. Like a bug that uses the spit it secretes to trap other insects but traps itself, we end up trapped in our conceptual understanding and never experience the open pure space of mind itself.
As we hold onto our conceptual understanding of non-self or emptiness, we start rejecting the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise in our experience. We reject them because, according to our understanding of emptiness, they intrude on it. It’s a bit like rejecting wind, fog, rain, rainbows, mist, etc., because they intrude on the sky. But the sky is there all the time regardless of what is going on in it. Because we are so caught up in our idea of how it should be, we don’t see it, no matter how determined or how strenuously we strive. When we make our own experience the enemy, we are going to have a very difficult time.
And it doesn’t matter how hard we try to understand. “Rowing harder doesn't help if the boat is headed in the wrong direction,” says Kenichi Ohmae
The best outcome from all this effort is that we collapse, utterly worn out, and give up trying to understand anything. Not infrequently, there is a moment then when our thinking, along with our conceptual understanding, collapses and we are there.
This path is not about preferring one experience to another, one feeling to another, but about being present in everything that arises. Nothing is rejected! It’s tough, believe me, but that’s the magic, too. We find a natural purity even in the most painful, most tragic, most repugnant experiences.