2 of 9

Redefining enlightenment

Seeing into one's own nature

Mazu simplified the idea of what constitutes enlightenment, stressing the immediacy of enlightenment. As he defined it, "seeing into one's own nature" simply meant understanding (intuitively, not rationally) who you are and what you are. This truth could be taught with whatever method seemed appropriate at a given moment. As Hu Shih so eloquently describes his teaching:

. . . any gesture or motion, or even silence, might be used to communicate a truth.. [Recall the Buddha once enlightened Mahakashyapa by holding up a flower] Mazu developed this idea into a pedagogical method for the new Zen. There is no need to seek any special faculty in the mind for the enlightenment. Every behavior is the mind, the manifestation of the Buddha-nature. Snapping a finger, frowning or stretching the brow, coughing, smiling, anger, sorrow, or desire . . . is the functioning of the Buddhahead: it is the Tao, the Way. There is no need to perform any special act, be it dhyana or worship, in order to achieve the Tao. To be natural is the Way. Walk naturally, sit naturally, sleep naturally, live naturally--that is the Way. Let the mind be free: do not purposely do evil; nor purposely do good, There is no Law to abide, no Buddhahood to attain. Maintain a free mind-and cling to nothing: that is Tao.

Thus it seems that the most preeminent Chan master of the eighth century not only repudiated all the apparatus of traditional Buddhism, he also simplified enlightenment down to a quite secular condition of acceptance of the natural state of human affairs.

Mazu's Chan seems merely so many ways of finding out who you are and what you are.

For instance, although he was familiar with the great Mahayana sutras, Mazu never mentioned Huineng or the Diamond Sutra. His Chan, expressed in simple everyday language, seems merely so many ways of finding out who you are and what you are. Furthermore, there seems to be nothing specifically that you can do to accelerate the occurrence of sudden enlightenment, other than use traditional practices to make your psyche as uncomplicated as possible and then wait for the moment to strike (he, of course, experimented to find ways to accelerate the arrival of that moment).

But he had nothing encouraging to say about the effectiveness of meditation as an aid to finding the desired non-rational insight, which he sometimes described using the borrowed term "Tao":

The grasping of the Truth is the function of everyday-mindedness. Everyday-mindedness is free from intentional action, free from concepts of right-and wrong; taking and giving, the finite or the infinite . . . . All our daily activities—walking, standing, sitting, lying down—all response to situations, our dealings with circumstances as they arise: all this is Tao.