Then the monk Subhuti, who was in the midst of the assembly, stood up, bared his right shoulder, kneeled on his right knee, clasped his hands together in reverence, and addressed the Buddha: “How exquisitely considerate you are, Sir! You are always concerned about the welfare of your disciples, and you are generous with your teaching. Sir, when sincere men and women seek enlightenment, what should they do and how should they control their minds?”
The Buddha said, “An excellent question, Subhuti. If sincere men and women seek enlightenment, it is essential for them to control their minds. Listen, and I will explain how.”
Subhuti said, “Please do, Sir. We are all listening.”
Subhuti stands up and with the most beautiful gestures expresses his reverence for the Buddha. From the Buddha’s point of view, Buddha is just a word for himself, and it is a word for Subhuti, and it is also a word for each of the monks in the audience. The dialogue that follows is between the Buddha and the Buddha. It’s the internal self meeting itself. There is no self, and the no-self meets itself. There is no other, and the no-other meets the no-self.
People sometimes approach me with that kind of reverence, and it isn’t personal. They may come up to me after an event, when they are very moved because, through The Work we have all experienced together, they have understood something that was profoundly meaningful to them. They approach me with gleaming eyes and put their palms together and sometimes even kneel or bow, whatever is their custom. I know what reverence feels like, and I love that they are experiencing it. Recognition of the apparent me is only recognition of their own true nature. There can be no me in the equation. It’s their own recognition; it came from them and belongs to them, and as that recognition, I celebrate. I am always internally bowing at their feet, and at my own feet, and I understand that anything less than that is a state of separation. When someone bows in front of me, I am what bows and I am what is bowed to. Both positions are equal. There’s nothing personal in it.
It would be no different if I bowed in reverence to a grain of sand. It’s a falling into, a merging into. The oneness, the not-even-oneness, has to be realized; there’s nothing else you can do with it. Immersing yourself in it, rubbing it on your skin, rolling in it as it merges with your hair and gets in your nostrils (I say “your,” but it’s really “its”), doesn’t get you any closer, and to say “the same” is still far away. That’s how I experience reverence. It’s the self, intimate with… I can’t even say “the self intimate with itself”; it’s simply the self, intimate. This is true intimacy, the undivided. There’s nothing outside it, and nothing inside.
Humility means showing that kind of reverence to the sand, to the dust, to the sound of whatever is heard in this moment. If we were in our right minds, we would show reverence to everything in the world as the Buddha. That’s what realization is. You can’t ever grasp what is realizing. The thought that you’re realizing anything at all isn’t true; that’s at least one thought-generation away from the truth. It’s a beautiful moment in grace, and still you’re identified as the one who has realized. Once you get past the pain and eventual joy of surrender, you recognize something beyond your ability to identify, and you fall into a state of utter gratitude.
I am always the student. I love to be in that position, at the feet of anyone and anything I see. It’s wonderful. It doesn’t require an open mind: it is the open mind. It never has to take responsibility for knowing or for not knowing. It receives everything without limit, without judgment, since judgment would cost it everything. The moment you think you are someone, or think you have something to teach, the inner world freezes and becomes the realm of illusion. That’s what it costs when you identify as the person who knows. It’s a concoction of mind. You shrink down into the teacher: limited, separate, stuck.
Subhuti talks about the generosity of the Buddha. Of course the Buddha is generous! There’s nothing he would hold back, because for him the giving is the receiving. He is always only talking with himself. This whole sutra is the self (the awareness that is more accurately called the non-self) in discussion with itself. The apparent “other” is a self-image. If I can hear a question, it’s inside me; it’s coming from inside me, not from anywhere in an imagined “out there.” It’s immediate. There’s no distance in it, and answering one’s own question is what love does, always in service to itself. The “other” is grateful, naturally, since it’s a reflection of my own self. I would ask nothing of myself that was beyond me. It’s always a refreshment. It’s the clear mind, the real thing, the beloved, always expanding, stretching, soaring as beauty and goodness and creation without limit. Not to answer would be to limit its majesty. When questions appear, the answers are effortless. But the quality of the answer depends on the student. If I’m sitting with someone who thinks he knows something, he has limited himself, and my answers mirror that limitation. But if the student asks with a mind that is truly open, the answer is free. It comes from the bottomless source. That’s why in twenty-eight years I have never tired of people asking the same questions over and over. The question is always new.
Subhuti says that the Buddha is concerned about the welfare of his disciples. That’s my experience too, though I don’t see anyone as a disciple. To me, there are only friends. And I am concerned only if they are concerned; their concern is all the concern that’s left in me. When they ask a question, I see them as my confused self. I see them as the Byron Katie I used to be, suffering, without a way out. I would give those people everything I have. The question is needed, just like the begging bowl. It’s needed for the enlightened mind; it is the enlightened mind, igniting itself. And if they don’t question me, I’m never concerned about their welfare, because I know that everyone is perfectly all right, whatever apparent suffering they may be going through.
So Subhuti asks the Buddha a question, and it’s a good one. There are men and women who authentically want to go beyond themselves. There are sincere men and women who want to be free. I was one of those without realizing it. I tested what happened when I didn’t respond to the thoughts of “I want,” “I need,” “I should.” I witnessed the world beyond those apparent requirements, and I found none of them to be true. None of the thoughts could stand up to inquiry. You could discover this even if you tested it for just twenty-four hours, with one small meal. Someone could give you a bowl of filthy rice, and that’s it for twenty-four hours, and the I-know mind would say, “This isn’t enough nourishment; I’m going to be weak; I’ll get sick; I’ll die.” But when you allow each thought to be met with “Is it true?” life will show itself to you. You discover that every thought ends with a question mark, not with a period. You’re able to rest in the never-ending enlightenment of the open mind.
When I woke up to reality, I had children in need and property in need and a husband in need and people in need all around me, and none of that was true. I tested it. I found that nobody needed me, ever. And with the loss of all this came a further loss of self. It played itself out in the world. Gone was the house, gone the children, gone the husband, and there was no “me” to lose them. Everything without exception went to a better care than I could ever give them, a higher service, a kinder way. They all became my teachers, deleting me from the process.
Subhuti’s question is a good one, but there’s something slightly confused about it, since he asks how to “control” the mind. It’s a natural question; in the dream-world, the world of suffering, the mind seems wild and chaotic, and people think that it needs to be controlled. Some people would give anything to know how to control it. But the mind can never be controlled; it can only be loved and understood. It’s like an unruly child. Thoughts come one after another to pester us and demand our attention, like unloved children. Our job is to discern, to know the difference between an internal argument and a state where we’re open to receive. Suffering appears when we try to control reality, when we think that we are the source rather than the mirror-image or that we are more or less than anything else in the mirror. But everything is equal; it’s all a reflection.
We can control the mind only to this extent: as a thought appears, we can notice the difference between an assertion and a question. The assertion comes from the I-know mind, the teacher. The question comes purely from the student. In the questioning mind we experience a flow. There’s no interruption, no limitation. Control is just a matter of noticing. It doesn’t mean imposing an order onto the mind. If you’re a true student, the thought will always end with a question mark.
Q: Why would you bow in reverence to a grain of sand?
A: The grain of sand gives itself entirely. Even though I may be totally unaware of it, it waits for the opportunity to show me itself and how it exists through me. It is patient, solid in its purpose, unchanging in its present identity, it doesn’t pretend, it doesn’t mind if I step on it, honor it, praise it, or belittle it; it remains what it is, without disguise or deceit, it is perfectly allowing, doesn’t resist the name I give it, lets itself be whatever I call it. Who of right mind wouldn’t bow to such a consciousness? I honor it as a teacher, and I meet its nature in everything I witness. If you throw me away, step on me, judge me as useless, overlook me, do I remain with the same constant and generous nature as the grain of sand? This is the Buddha mind. It’s what I woke up to. I also learned from the grain of sand that physical bowing is unnecessary. My bowing is now an unceasing internal experience, like the emptying I underwent in the desert for so many months, an emptying that left me with reverence toward everything I met. It left me as the student. Subhuti in the presence of the Buddha. The Buddha in the presence of Subhuti.
Q: What’s the difference between humility and humiliation?
A: Humility looks very ordinary. It’s hello and goodbye. Sometimes, at first, it looks like tears, sometimes like dying. It’s total surrender. The thing you were so proud of is seen as selfish; you treasured it, and it falls apart, and there is a change that takes place within you. If there’s any hint of humiliation, it means that your ego hasn’t totally surrendered; if you feel humbled, it means that your ego is surrendered, and it’s the softest, most lovely experience, and in that experience you see everyone as your teacher. You stand in what’s left of you, and you die, and you keep dying. It’s like the tree that lets go of its leaves. That beautiful clothing has fallen away, and the tree just stands there in the cold of winter, totally exposed.
Q: You talk about the position of being the teacher as “limited, separate, stuck.” But aren’t there teachers with open minds?
A: Yes. But the teacher who thinks of himself as teacher, the want-to-be teacher, the one who’s invested in it, is trying to teach the student what he himself needs to learn. If I identify as a teacher and see my students as any less than teachers, I’m reinforcing what I think I know. The teacher who is always a student, who lives as the don’t-know mind, is free to continue expanding his consciousness without interruption. For the true teacher (that is, the true student), teacher and student are always equal.