Every day, our mind is either in the state of being open or closed. “Open” and “closed” are two easy to understand words for “ignorant” and “enlightened”, as taught in ancient Buddhist texts. An ignorant mind is always closed. An enlightened mind is always thoroughly open, always in the state of being open, vast, expansive, boundless. The path to enlightenment is the path that opens our mind more and more, every day.
What is the state of a mind being closed like? For example, if someone asks “would you please help me clear out the dishes?” and we answer “Me helping you? No way! Go ask somebody else!” Or “I’m not sitting idle, you know!” Or “Ask somebody else.” The underline message is “I’m being closed, don’t ask me to be open!” Sometimes we’re annoyed at being criticized or scolded: we close our minds.
Anger, annoyance, sulkiness, sadness, … are different states the Buddha calls as suffering or affliction. These days we name it the state of the mind being closed. When our mind is closed, it’s as if thick, dark clouds have covered the sky. The sky itself represents the state of a mind being opened. The sky is the sky, with or without clouds. By nature, the sky cannot be destroyed by clouds, rain, storm or strong winds. Afflictions are like clouds, here now, gone later. Focus on the expansive, boundless sky instead of the clouds; then afflictions would have a hard time disturbing us. The ability to be aware of and recognize the expansive sky, and the ability to not be attracted by clouds, is known as the ability to be open. To cultivate is to maintain an open mind.
In everyday life, sometimes we’re full of negative affirmations, especially those that deny the boundlessness of the mind. In other words, we unknowingly close our mind, keep our minds cloudy. The followings are some sample scenarios of when we close our minds or make the sky cloudy:
- When we strongly resist
- When we deny criticism
- When we strongly oppose something
- When we get angry, violent
- When we find excuses for a wrongdoing
- When we get annoyed because things don’t go our way, or not as we anticipated
- When we worry because of making mistakes, or pressure from meeting deadline
- When we get fearful due to various reasons: death, insecurity, losing face, being wrong, …
- When we scare or threaten someone
- When we cheat or fool someone
- When we develop strong attachment to a view, a way of thinking
- When we’re deeply attached to the past while the present continuously surges toward the future
- When we hide wrongdoings
- When we hide behind a theory, a philosophy, a way of looking at things
- When we’re stingy
- When greed gets a hold of us
- When we’re lazy
- When we block someone’s path
- When we’re selfish, turning away from the needs of those around us
- There are many other scenarios, …
When that happens, deep in our consciousness, where our blind spots are being formed, we affirm that:
- “I am the state of being closed.”
- “I am closed.”
- “I am being closed. I’m turned off, or I’m shutting down.”
On the cultivation path, we should exercise the following practical steps:
1. Relax the body: The simplest is to stretch; do yoga for flexibility of the body, relax the body, relax the internal organs, relax the Chi. Relaxation is similar to rattling a closed door to open it. The door is your mind, your spirit. When the body is stiff, it’s hard for our mind to be light and gentle. Being stiff is the body’s state of being closed.
2. Relax the breath: slow down your breathing, breathe subtly during sitting meditation. Slow and subtle breathing helps us relax, from cells to muscles. Hard, shallow breathing goes with hard, shallow mind. Being hard and shallow can’t take you to subtle state. Subtle and deep breathing is the door to the profound spiritual world.
3. Recognize truth (Tri chân): Practice visualizing the boundless sky of the mind, through positive affirmation such as “I am openness, I am open.” In the beginning, we only visualize, imagine; gradually, we’ll feel a sense of openness on our own body, in our own mind.
4. Recognize falsehood (Tri vọng): Practice recognizing whether our words and behaviors are closed or open. Reduce and replace words and actions that close our mind, others’ minds. Rude, angry, abusive words are closed words. Being argumentative, violent, putting on airs, giving people a hard time, are closed behaviors. When we recognize closed words and actions, immediately change the pattern of those words and actions. Replace rude, angry, impolite words with soft, gentle, acceptable words. Replace hurtful behaviors with gentle, loving ones.
5. Realize falseness (Giác huyễn): At a deeper level, practice recognizing the motivation behind every word and action. Recognize negative affirmation of the ego, such as “I’m closed, I cannot, I’m unable, I’m hopeless, I’m done’. These affirmations are the machination driving all negative words and behaviors; recognizing and neutralizing them is the most effective way to change your destiny.
The five aforementioned practices lead to Ngộ chân (realizing the truth): which is the ability to be open, truly open, in all circumstances. Realizing the truth is the last stage of months and years of practicing tri chân. Visualizing “I am open” leads to bodily sensations (tri chân stage); then with perseverance, penetration, frequent practice, the state of openness eventually explodes in the mind. Ancient texts call it ‘great sudden realization’, all obstacles due to the body, mind, perception, habits, culture turn absolute silent; what’s left is the openness, penetrating clarity, expansiveness, free of obstruction. Like the deep blue sky, regardless of thick clouds, loud thundering, the sky smiles in silent magnanimity.
Most of all, we should not intentionally or unintentionally close someone’s mind. Jealousy, hostility, unforgiving, not making peace, refusing to see the beauty in those who dislike us, arrogance, refusing to show concern, not knowing love … are the most common illnesses that a cultivator should overcome. Nothing is more beautiful than saying: “I’m sorry!” or “I apologize, let’s make up!” or “I love you!”