My new book, A Mind at Home with Itself, will be published on September 19. (Please pre-order it at amindathomewithitself.com.) Here’s a chapter from the book. (The word “Buddha” means “the awakened one.” It’s a word for the clear mind—for me, for you, for all of us.)
The Buddha said, “Let me ask you something, Subhuti. If someone were to amass inconceivable wealth and then gave it all away in support of charitable causes, wouldn’t the merit gained by this person be great?”
Subhuti said, “Extremely great, Sir. But though this merit is great, there is no substance to it. It is only called ‘great.’”
The Buddha said, “Yes, Subhuti. Nevertheless, if an open-minded person, upon hearing this sutra, could truly realize what it is teaching and then embody it and live it, this person’s merit would be even greater. All the buddhas, and all their teachings about enlightenment, spring forth from what this sutra teaches. And yet, Subhuti, there is no teaching.”
The Buddha’s point here is that when you realize there is no self and no other, you give an incomparable gift. It’s the ultimate generosity, both to others and to yourself (neither of whom exist). All Buddha awareness—that is, any mind that sees reality as it truly is—arises from this realization.
There is no distance away from mind. It’s all an imagined trip. Mind never moves as the source. It doesn’t “come back” to itself, because it never leaves. Heaven and earth were born when I was, and the only thing that was born is the “I.” The whole world arises out of that unquestioned “I.” And with it arises the world of naming, and the sleights of mind that match those names. Out of that story come a thousand—ten thousand—forms of suffering. “I am this.” “I am that.” “I am a human.” “I am a woman.” “I am a woman with three children, whose mother doesn’t love her.”
You are who you believe you are. Other people are, for you, who you believe they are; they can be nothing more than that. If you realized that the mind is one, that everyone and everything is your own projection (including you), you would understand that it’s only yourself you’re ever dealing with. You would end up loving yourself, loving every thought you think. When you love every thought, you love everything thoughts create, you love the whole world you have created. At first, the love that overflows in you seems to be about connecting with other people, and it’s wonderful to feel intimately connected to every human being you meet. But then it becomes about mind connected to itself, and only that. The ultimate love is the mind’s love of itself. Mind joins with mind—all of mind, without division or separation, all of it loved. Ultimately I am all I can know, and what I come to know is that there is no such thing as “I.”
So you discover that even mind is imagined. Inquiry wakes you up to that. When people question the apparent past, they lose their future. The present moment—that’s when we’re born. We’re the unborn. We’re born now… now… now… There is no story that can survive inquiry. “I” is imagined by “me,” and as you get a glimpse of that, you stop taking yourself so seriously. You learn to love yourself, as no one. Mind’s love affair with itself is the great dance, the only dance.
When you realize that there’s no self, you also realize that there’s no death. Death is just the death of identity, and that’s a beautiful thing, since every identity the mind would construct vanishes upon inquiry, and you’re left with no identity, and therefore unborn. The “I” of past and future are both nonexistent now, and what remains is imagined. When mind stops, there’s no mind to know that there’s no mind. Perfect! Death has a terrible reputation, but it’s only a rumor.
The truth is that nothing and something are equal. They’re just different aspects of reality. Something is a word for what is. Nothing is a word for what is. Awareness has no preference for one over the other. Awareness wouldn’t deny any of it. It wouldn’t deny a needle on a pine tree. It wouldn’t deny a breath. I am all of that. It’s total self-love, and it would have it all. It bows at the feet of it all. It bows at the feet of the sinner, the saint, the dog, the cat, the ant, the drop of water, the grain of sand.
The Buddha says that the merit of someone who realizes this central teaching of the Diamond Sutra is greater than the merit of even the most generous philanthropist. This realization is the greatest possible gift. But ultimately there’s no merit. No one is keeping score, after all. How can you acquire merit if you don’t even exist as a separate being? “Merit” is just a way of saying that you can do nothing more valuable than realize who you are.
The Buddha-mind holds nothing back. Everything in it is freely given, as it was freely received. It has no storage place; what flows into it flows out of it, without any thought of having or giving. There’s nothing to have that isn’t immediately given, and its value is in the giving. The Buddha-mind doesn’t need it. It’s a receptacle; it exists in a constant flow. Whatever wisdom the Buddha may have is something he can’t claim. It belongs to everyone. It’s simply realized from within and given away in exactly the same measure. The more valuable it is, the more freely it’s given.
I can’t give you anything you don’t already have. Self-inquiry allows you access to the wisdom that already exists within you. It gives you the opportunity to realize the truth for yourself. Truth doesn’t come or go; it’s always here, always available to the open mind. If I can teach you anything, it is to identify the stressful thoughts that you’re believing and to question them, to get still enough so that you can hear your own answers. Stress is the gift that alerts you to your asleepness. Feelings like anger or sadness exist only to alert you to the fact that you’re believing your own stories. The Work gives you a portal into wisdom, a way to tap into the answers that wake you up to your true nature, until you realize how all suffering is caused and how it can be ended. It returns you to before the beginning of things. Who would you be without your identity?
We’re born as a story. The story stays out there and lives its life, forever. For me, “forever” lasted for forty-three years, and it was every lifetime that has ever been lived—all of time and space. I thought I was stuck there, in hopeless agony, with no way out. Then the four questions brought me back to the storyteller. Once I realized that no one was telling the story, I had to laugh. It turned out that I had been free all along, since the beginning of time.
In this sutra, the Buddha talks about generosity, but he doesn’t talk about love. Why do you think that is?
Love is usually thought of as an emotion, but it’s much vaster than that. Egos can’t love, because an ego isn’t real, and it can’t create something real. The Buddha is beyond any identity, and that’s what I see as pure love.
When I refer to love, I’m merely pointing to the unidentified, awakened mind. When you’re identified as a this or a that, a him or a her, any kind of physical self, body, or personality, you remain in the limited realm of the ego. If your thoughts are opposed to love, you’ll feel stress, and that stress will let you know that you’ve drifted away from what you fundamentally are. If you feel balance and joy, that tells you that your thinking is more in keeping with your true identity, which is beyond identity. That’s what I call “love.”
What’s the relationship between love and projection?
When I judge someone, I’m seeing a distortion of my own mind superimposed onto an apparent other. I can’t love the one I’m with until I see him (or her) clearly, and I can’t see him clearly until I have no desire to change him. When confusion takes over the mind, when it argues with reality, I see only my own confusion. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” isn’t a command coming from the outside; it’s an observation. When you love your neighbor, you’re loving yourself; when you love yourself, you can’t help but love your neighbor. That’s because your neighbor is yourself. He’s not the “other” that he seemed to be. He’s a pure projection of mind.
I understand how painful the unquestioned mind is. I also understand that love is the power. Mind originates in love and ultimately returns to its source. Love is mind’s homing device, and until mind returns, it has no rest.
You say that there is no death. But bodies die, don’t they? Is the mind independent of the brain? How can you know that when the brain dies there is any mind at all?
Nothing is born but a thought believed, and nothing dies but that thought once realized, and eventually you come to understand that the thought was never born in the first place. I don’t see anyone as alive, since all beings are within me and are only as “I” see them to be.
If you think that bodies die, they die—in your world. In my world, bodies can’t be born anywhere but in the mind. How can what was never born die? That’s not possible, except in the imagination of the hypnotized, innocent believer.
You say, “Nothing and something are equal.” Doesn’t that mean that nothing matters? And if nothing matters, isn’t that depressing?
All somethings are nothing, since they’re all imagined, and “nothing” is equal to “something.” Does anything matter? Yes, to the ego. But the fact that the ego believes it doesn’t make it real.
Once you realize that you’re no one, you’re thrilled that nothing matters. There’s so much freedom in that! The whole slate is wiped clean at every moment. It means that every new moment is a new beginning, where anything is possible. You also realize that the turnaround for that statement is equally true: everything matters. That’s just as thrilling as its opposite.