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“Attention With and Without Duality”: Venerable Guo Xing’s Teachings for Environment & Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The Venerable Guo Xing, Abbot of Dharma Drum Retreat Center and Chan Meditation Center in New York, gave a follow-up presentation hosted by the Chan meditation community of practice at the Douglas Jung Building on “Attention with and without Duality” on January 23, 2014 to approximately three dozen Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada colleagues. Venerable Chang Wu, Director of the Dharma Drum Mountain Centre in Richmond, started the session by leading participants in a brief seated meditation body scan, from head to toe, to relax our bodies, which helped to relax our minds in advance of Venerable Guo Xing’s presentation. She reminded us that we can do the seated meditation almost anywhere at any time and immediately experience the calming benefits that it brings to our bodies and our minds, and encouraged us to do so more often.

Venerable Guo Xing started his presentation with a discussion on how our mind perceives objects through sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought. He explained how objects, once perceived, become reflections in our mind. Yet we often mistake the reflections of objects in our mind for the objects themselves, but in reality they are only our awareness of the objects. In fact, our thoughts are objects. They do not have awareness; they are images without life.

When we mistake thoughts for the mind, having the function of awareness, this is ignorance. Ignorance is a function of the mind, and its innate nature is the mind. How does ignorance come about? Venerable Guo Xing explained that when the first thought arises, if you take it as real (this is ignorance), the second thought thus follows. When this occurs, you would think that the first thought creates the second thought and the second thought continues from the first thought. The fact is that the second thought does not come from the first thought; they are independent thoughts and are not related at all.

Does the first thought still exist when the second thought arises? According to our present experience, it does. However, the fact of the matter is that it does not. When the second thought arises, the first thought has perished. The relationship between the first thought and the second thought is like when we open our palm, and then close our palm. When closing our palm, does the open palm still exist? No, but when closing our palm, the image of the open palm will still exist for a short moment afterwards. The Venerable further used the analogy of tracing a circle with an incense/pen. What we see is a circle of smoke. But, if we examine it closely, the trace of this circle is composed of numerous dots, one after the other. When we move our incense from this point to the next point, this point has already perished and the next point appears.

Venerable Guo Xing then provided the example of looking at oneself in a mirror. We become aware that we are pretty, which is actually a judgement that we pay attention to as a thought. We mistakenly take that thought to be our self, yet neither the thought, nor the reflection of our face in the mirror, is truly our self. He also used the reflection in the mirror/the mirror, the puppets/the hand holding the puppets, the toys/the player metaphors to describe the mind/object relationship. He pointed out to us that we take the reflection and the mirror for two identities; to us they are separate from each other. We pay attention with duality. He further explained that the reflections are the reflections on the mirror and are not separate from the mirror. The same applies to the ocean/wave metaphor… there are waves with a shape of chair, a shape of table, a shape of cloth, a shape of red colour, a shape of sound, a shape of thought, a shape of feeling, a shape of odour, etc., however, the essence of these waves is water, the ocean.

We habitually zoom in and grasp to the shape of these waves and play out past experiences which we retrieve from our memory bank; thus, we experience joy, suffering, stress, anxiety, excitement, etc. based on our memories of past experiences. We overlook that the essence of these shapes of waves is water/the ocean. Only when we realize this, can we realize that we have the choice to be happy, to be sad, etc. in life. We can choose which waves, which toys, which puppets, etc. That is, the reflections (all phenomena including our own thoughts, feeling, etc.) on the mirror (the mind) are not the mirror itself, however, they do not separate from the mirror. This is attention without duality.

Venerable Guo Xing asked whether we believe there are barriers between objects and the subject perceiving them. He went on to demonstrate that there are no real barriers between the subject and objects. There are only the perceived barriers created in our minds from mistaking the reflections of objects in our mind for reality.

So, objects are created in the mind through our awareness and intention. Yet, we grasp to those objects in our minds as if they were more than mere reflections or perceptions; making judgements on whether we want to be or don’t want to be, whether we like or dislike them, and whether they are good or bad. Since they are merely reflections, there is no need to make judgements. Rather we should treat objects as neither good nor bad and neither like nor dislike them. To take objects as anything more than reflections in our mind is to cause ourselves and others suffering through our attachment to those objects.

Abbot Venerable Guo Xing encouraged us to perseveringly reflect on this concept of wave/the ocean analogies/metaphors during our daily activities in addition to the sitting meditation practice. Then, we will begin to realize that we are continuously reacting to the images (retrieved from our past memories) arising from our mind. These images are manifestations of our mind, but, they are not the mind. When we begin to realize that we mistake the images created by the mind for our current reality, we realize we can make choices in life. We have the choice to be happy when we can better manage our emotions and our reactions to the world around us with this little change in perspective.

(Shared by DDM Vancouver Center; prepared by Shelley Schnurr )

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