The essence of the Way is detachment. And the goal… is freedom from appearances… The sutras say, “Those who free themselves from all appearances are called buddhas.” Bodhidharma, Wake-up Sermon
Anyone who gives up the transcendent for the mundane, in any of its myriad forms, is a mortal. Bodhidharma, Bloodstream Sermon
Zen Legend Bodhidharma makes himself very clear. If you are on the spiritual path, or the human path rather, your goal is to be free from appearances. Freedom from appearances equals contentment and happiness. Non-freedom equals dis-ease and pain.
What does he mean by appearances?
In Buddhism, there is only one thing that really “exists,” and that is what Bodhidharma calls Mind, which can also be translated as Spirit or Heart. Everything else, including you, me, your dog, and your favorite TV show, are just expressions and manifestations… appearances… of this singular Mind. It’s kind of like how Beauty can reveal itself through a variety of shapes, colors and forms, yet Beauty is its own thing, and is not bound or limited to those shapes, colors and forms, and is not to be confused with them either. Beauty is one thing, a thing that we all know when we experience it, but this one thing can be experienced in many different ways and through many different mediums. Mind is like that.
This Force and Reality that is Mind, exists inside of and all around every thing and every one, and It exists as every thing and every one. You are distinct from Mind, but not separate from Mind. Without Mind, we would not exist, but as real as we are, — because I am not, nor are Buddhists, pushing nihilism — in comparison to Mind, we don’t seem to exist or have any reality at all. Don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here. I am not saying we are not real. I am saying that Mind is just infinitely more real, so when we compare ourselves to Mind, I mean, yeah, we look like transparent ghosts who have no substance to our being and no being to our substance.
mewithoutYou ends their album, Brother, Sister, with the lines, “I do not exist. Only You exist.” They are making the same point. Some will say that this is just Eastern babble, but this is not a foreign concept to Western, religious thinking either. The Bible is full of imagery about how, in comparison to God, — who fourth century Church Doctor, Gregory of Nyssa calls, “The Really Real” — what we know as real, including ourselves, is like “dust,” like “a passing wind,” like “mist,” and like “a temporary breath.” Christianity’s hero, Saint Paul, goes as far as saying, “I don’t even live(exist), but it’s Christ who lives in me and as me!” Christ, who called himself the Way or the Tao, was the Christian Apostles’ Mind, the One in whom “we live and move and have our being.”
This truth should be a breath of fresh air in itself. When hearing this, we should feel like kids who are freed from taking ourselves too seriously, because at the end of the day, in the depths of our existence and being, we are not alone, and our lives are not our own. We are part and parcel of a Reality that is sustaining us, keeping us, and driving us forward. We are grossly dependent upon God, upon Mind, upon the Tao, and when we forget this, we begin to trust, depend and rely upon… appearances… replacing boundless Beauty with a single, lonely piece of art; trading the One for just one of its many forms. This is like ignoring an infinite Starbucks gift card, or your own personal Starbucks store!, and getting stuck on the one venti-whatever you have in your hand, mostly drunk and 99% spit/whipped cream by now.
When we get too attached and stuck on a person, a type of experience, an object, you name it, we become blind and alienated from the Free Flowing Water that flows through that particular person or thing, and end up with dead, stale h20. There’s nothing wrong with what the Water flowed through. That person or object is meant to be enjoyed, but it’s meant to be enjoyed in partnership and in synchronicity with the Heart(Mind) of the Universe, who is one with that person or thing.
Mind is one with all of its forms and appearances.
Mind is one with you.
Even though you are not Mind, Mind is you.
This is an extremely important point, because a few of you might already be thinking that freedom from appearances means to not live a normal life, to be separate from friends, passions and hobbies, to be super spiritual, abandoning all of the fun, “mundane” activities of this human world. This is a very wrong way of thinking. If appearances are expressions and forms of Mind, then to reject them is to reject Mind. If you reject my offspring, you reject me. If you reject my art and expression, if you reject my mirror image, then you reject me. When we look down on the “ordinary” things and dynamics of regular, “monotonous” life, we are looking down on the Extraordinary as well. “Heaven” is not outside of this life, but like Jesus taught, “the kingdom of God is within you.”
So then, what does freedom from forms, from appearances, look like?
It looks like not becoming miserable when something or someone is away from you for a time. It looks like you not trying to be in hyper control of your own life, because you only feel safe and comfortable when it appears a certain way. It means being at peace and content no matter what situation you are in, because you know that what you see in the circumstances and dynamics around you are just appearances. They are like dreams, illusions, mirages, holograms.
They are passing clouds in the vast blue sky, the vast blue sky that is You. The sky is the sky in all circumstances. It does not push away the storms, and it does not hold on to dear life to the sunshine and cloudless days. It can just be in all situations, because it knows that the weather is impermanent, and the sky is the sky all the time.
I am not saying to not exit yourself from unwanted or unhealthy circumstances, but there are bad things in life that we will never be able to make go away, or that we can’t make go away for a certain time frame. How do we handle those issues? We see them for what they are, not real when compared to the Reality that is perceiving and going through them, that Reality, that Mind, is you.
…whatever you do, wherever you are, that’s your real mind, that’s your real Buddha. This mind is the buddha… Your mind is nirvana… To find a buddha you have to see YOUR nature. Bodhidharma, Bloodstream Sermon
I would say it like this:
To find a buddha, you have to find yourself…
or realize yourself…
realize who you really are.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, in the beginning you said we were not Mind, and now you are saying that I am Mind? Which is it?”
I did that on purpose because both are true. I won’t get into that now, but I do explain it here: https://humansaredivine.wordpress.com/2020/08/18/method-acting/
What I’ll end with is this: You now know the goal, be free from taking appearances to seriously, but theoretically knowing and actually putting it to work are not the same. The theory is good, necessary even, but the practice is better. I like food more than the menu, but that’s just me. I don’t want to just talk or know about freedom, I want to live it, express it, and I want to be free.
Freedom comes from an encounter and continual living with Mind. You connect with Mind when you meditate, when you hear and read the Dharma and/or Logos of God, and when you just walk in faith that Mind is what’s “really real.” Appearances are real too, just not as real as Mind, and not as real as You. Does the ocean freak out about waves? Does the sky worry day and night about the storms? Does mom stress out about the imaginary drama in the lives of her child’s dolls? Don’t spend so much time thinking on things, situations and appearances that don’t warrant the time. Think on them when necessary, and then be free of them in your mind when said thinking, dwelling and day dreaming is not needed.
Your safe place is not any specific person, place or thing, but your contentment and peace comes from the Life Force within, around and inside of you.
Mind is always present.
Mind is always within you.
Mind is always… you.