Don’t Know Mind

A young monk tentatively asked the Master,
“Teacher, why did Bodhidharma come from the west?”
The Master looked out the window and said,
“The cypress tree in the courtyard.”

The Zen Master whacks his stick against the floor. You’re startled, heart racing, eyes wide open, completely alert and aware, your mind snapped back to the present moment, all questions gone, all doubts gone, all striving gone.

Gone, gone, gone beyond.

To go beyond mind, beyond thought, beyond questions, beyond the idea of right and wrong – beyond the conceptualizing and quantifying ever hungry never satisfied mind – now that is pure freedom.

That is Don’t Know Mind.

Keep this don’t know mind at all times. While walking. While driving. While eating. This don’t know mind is free from ideas, concepts and catastrophizing. It’s free from the tyranny of the me-me-me mind that’s caught up in worry, fear and want. This don’t know mind is wide open and vast like infinite space.

In “Only Don’t Know” Master Seung Sahn says that,

“Don’t-know mind cut’s through thinking. It is before thinking. Before thinking there is no doctor, no patient; also no God, no Buddha, no “I” no words — nothing at all. Then you and the universe become one. We call this nothing-mind, or primary point. Some people say this is God, or universal energy, or bliss, or extinction. But these are only teaching words. Nothing-mind is before words.”

This not knowing or “Don’t Know Mind” cracks us open from our shells and frees us so that we may flow with life again.

The conceptual, every day, I-Me-My mind is a hungry ghost and no matter how much information we feed it, this me-me-me mind will never be satisfied. It always wants more. It wants something to grab hold of. Some new problem to solve. Some new worry to stew on. And if we’re trying to find true authentic happiness via this mind we’ll be searching for countless lifetimes.

Thinking is the problem because thinking gives rise to the needy I and when we drop this type of mind state we enter into a responsive, compassionate, open, flowing, all embracing mind-state that seeks to help others because the lines between a me over here and a you over there have been dissolved. The calculating, conniving all-about-me-mind has been dropped.

In Dropping Ashes on the Buddha Master Seung Sahn reminds us that,

“Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” “Thinking”… that’s a problem! If you are thinking, everything appears: I, My, Me appears. My direction, my condition, my situation – everything appears.
Put it all down, completely put it all down. Then… nothing. You must attain “nothing”; that’s very important! If you attain nothing, then your job appears clearly in front of you.

Why did you come into this world? What you do here is your direction. This must become very clear. So, becoming clear means moment to moment, put it down, then the bodhisattva way appears in front of you – only help all beings. Our True Self doesn’t have coming or going. Our True Self is clear like space. Clear like space means clear like a mirror. Clear like a mirror means everything is reflected. Something appears then – BOOM! – reflect. Then there is no I, My, Me mind. There isn’t any “my” direction. There is only help, bodhisattva direction. Moment to moment… how can I help all beings? That’s our correct direction.”

So even though it may seem like “Don’t Know Mind” is a vacant wasteland of nothingness devoid of wisdom we see that it gives rise to ultimate wisdom which leads to compassionate action.

This practice of dropping the thinking, calculating, conniving, me-me-me mind is like a fast track to peace. In this mind-state there’s a wide eyed wakefulness that sees all the universe clearly, is connected to all of it freely, and responds to everything spontaneously.

We may have the pre-conceived notion that what we seek in the way of freedom and true authentic happiness will take years to cultivate but this practice of “Don’t Know Mind” is like a lightning bolt that cracks through our minds to illuminate clearly that we are what we’re seeking. What is sought is seeking it, so why not just drop it all and see it for yourself right now.

It reminds me of a Zen story I once heard,

A young man heard of a great Zen Master named Joshu and once hearing the Master’s name felt called to seek him out. He travelled for over a month, climbing over mountains, sluging his way through swamps, sleeping outside on the ground through rainstorms.

But finally he came to the temple where the great Master was. He banged on the door and the monk who answered ushered this young man in quickly. He asked the monk right away for an audience with the great Master but the monk silently led him to a place to wash off and get changed into fresh clothes.

Once the young man was bathed and clean he though, “Surely they will let me see the Master now.” But he was taken to the dining hall and given a steaming bowl of rice porridge to eat. The young man devoured the food as it was the first real meal he had eaten in such a long time.

As he was finishing the last bite, he looked up from the bowl and saw the great Master come through the door. He scrambled up from the table, ran over to the Master and threw himself at his feet saying,

“Great Master I’ve travelled over mountains, through swamps and battle the elements to find you. Please teach me the way to enlightenment!”

The Great Master helped the young man to his feet, smiled compassionately and said, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

“Yes Master, I have eaten.”

Joshu said, “Then you’d better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the young man was enlightened.

This Sudden Awakening style quickly cuts through the clutter and noise of the I-Me-My mind. Stripping us bare of our ideas, concepts and cunning.

This “Don’t Know Mind” is immediate and accessible by all and may even be the perfect practice method for the time-crunched, always on the go and forever run-ragged western mind.

Master Seung Sahn let’s us know that this “Don’t Know Mind” practice can be done anywhere which is perfect for our modern world,

“Always keep this don’t-know mind. When this don’t-know mind becomes clear, then you will understand. So if you keep don’t-know mind when you are driving, this is driving Zen. If you keep it when you are talking, this is talking Zen. If you keep it when you are watching television, this is television Zen. You must keep don’t-know mind always and everywhere. This is the true practice of Zen.” 

Even these assertions that there’s such a thing as television Zen helps to cut through our ridged thinking, breaking us free from our habitual patterns of thought constructs and what we may believe is Zen and when and where we can actually practice.

“Don’t Know Mind” is beyond any clearly defined lines or rules. It is wide open possibility.

Don’t Know Mind can be frustrating and paradoxical. In one moment it’s utterly freeing and the next we feel tied up in knots. I know it has challenged me and my insatiable need to know, to read, to gather that next piece of information.

One of my teachers said to me,

“How do we wake up? We have to continue to put down our ideas, our concepts, our beliefs. As soon as we think we know what enlightenment is – we are wrong.”

This putting down and letting go of ideas is a terrifying place. Why? Because we’re left wide open, naked and vulnerable. We hide behind our concepts, calculations and hypothesizes. Information is a weapon. Data points collected – a badge of honour.

But here, with Don’t-Know-Mind we’re presented with something that shatters that way of thinking. It breaks apart our solidified idea of who we think we are.

Zen Master Bon Soeng explains it this way,

“There’s all of this bias toward knowing. But we don’t really know. We have this radical teaching: How about admitting the truth that we don’t know and go from there. If we really live that, it changes everything.

Don’t Know Mind doesn’t mean stupid. It means What Is It? Suddenly our eyes are open, we’re vibrating with energy because we wonder, ‘What?’…rather than, ‘Oh yeah, I know that!’

So this Not-Knowing actually gives us life. It gives vibrancy and energy to the world we live in. This kind of I-Know shuts everything down and we get stuck…

We fill our minds up with all this stuff, and it gets stale and dead. Not knowing is what opens us up and comes alive…

Clear it away. Return to zero. What do we see, what do we smell, what do we taste, what do we touch? Everything is truth. What we know blocks the truth. Returning to not knowing opens us up.”

Let the practice of Don’t Know Mind open you up and clear away everything that you’re clinging to. Come back to the freedom of not knowing.