Knowing the Mind:
No-mind, No-form

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Recognizing that all human problems originate in the mind, the Buddha taught that without understanding how we create suffering through activities of the mind, ending suffering would be almost impossible. When we can understand how attachment, discrimination, and self-centeredness create suffering, it is easier to understand how these activities also create the idea of "self."

The purpose of practicing Chan is to solve the fundamental problem: that our own mind is the main cause of our suffering. (The Chinese word for "mind" is sometimes translated as "heart-mind" to connote that the activities of the "mind" include the emotive aspects associated with the "heart.") Chan gives us the methods for training the mind to reduce and ultimately bring to a stop the causes and conditions of suffering. When the mind, through Chan practice, arrives at a state where there is no attachment, discrimination, or notion of self, that state can be called "no-mind" or enlightenment.

Self and self

Ordinarily, one begins Chan practice having a notion of the "self" as real. In other words, we attribute to this self an enduring and independent existence. In the beginning we should not disavow this ego-centered self. Rather, because we need this self to engage in the practice with energy and diligence, we should accept and affirm ordinary self as the means through which we can make progress.

As we mature in practice, as we give up attachments and lessen vexations, the boundaries of the ordinary self become more inclusive of the needs and welfare of others. We gradually begin to break out of the smaller notion of self and into a more universal notion of "who I am" or Self.

The path of practice should, therefore, not be seen as abandoning the idea of self-centered ego but accepting it as a starting point towards a point where there is no self-reference to hinder the birth of wisdom and compassion. In this view, practice is the path of using self to ultimately realize "no-self" or "no-mind."