Posted inHenry's Messages

Message from Henry: Rewiring

January 12, 2016

We emerge from one womb when we are born. Then we construct a second one called “me.” This self seems to stay with us right through our lives.


Sometimes the mind that seeks awakening (the “bodhi mind”) is active but it can’t bring about the right context to allow it to go through its process. We may have internal features in our personality, or external ones in our lives, or both, that make it hard for the context to appear. (See chapter 12 of Zen: The Authentic Gate, by Yamada Koun.)

On the other hand, sometimes we may find ourselves in a good context, with teachings and practice available, but the mind of awakening just isn’t active. Sometimes neither is happening. And sometimes both are. From the Mahayana perspective, this last is auspicious, and the process of “bodhi” can happen.

It’s a third growing up. First there’s the growth from infancy into childhood. The infant is born with the brain incomplete. For the first two years the brain is in a state of “neuronal flux,” as it completes its wiring. Then we’re a child. Then once again at puberty and in adolescence, from about 13 to 20 years old, the brain goes into a second phase of neuronal flux, as new neural pathways are laid down. After that, we’re an adult. Grown up, kind of. Often we may stay that way until we die. But the bodhi mind is the part of us that is seeking a third “growing up.”

If it is able to have its way, it will create a suitable context in which this can happen, and it will lead us through the process, helping us to get whatever kind of help is needed. Many things may need to be let go of, or “cleared,” or “purified.”

The traditional view of Buddhism is that three basic things need to happen: refraining from harm; receiving some guidance in order to understand things more accurately; and a meditation practice, which can lead to a new perspective on things. For these elements to unfold, the three “treasures” are required, by way of context: Buddha (the historial figure who opened up this path, and the realization he came to), Dharma (the teachings and guidance that have evolved and been handed down) and Sangha (a community of fellow-practitioners).

We emerge from one womb when we are born. Then we construct a second one called “me.” This self seems to stay with us right through our lives.

But it is, from the Mahayana viewpoint, merely an opportunity intrinsically asking us to go through a new kind of birth process. To be born from this second tegument, made of convictions, assumptions and opinions, into intimate reality – can anything be said about it at all?

Sosan said: A hair’s breadth of difference separates heaven from earth. Dogen said: To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.

* * *

I sat for years without a teacher and felt that I was “getting somewhere” in my practice. But now I look back and see that I was chasing my tail, gazing into a mirror, self-obsessing and self-monitoring, yet surely learning something from it nonetheless, building some kind of basis of practice, perhaps becoming less reactive, more positive. But in terms of the Way, I wasn’t yet in the right context to really get somewhere.

But there’s nowhere to get to, any Zen-savvy reader might object.

So then why did it take Dogen fifteen years of hard training to reach “great peace”? Why did the passionately devoted Hakuin have to train for twenty-five years before he found his “original face,” and took up residence in it, at ease at last, producing calligraphies to give away, dispensing talismans to the local laity, opening up his talks to anyone interested, playing with the village kids, and guiding the students who asked him to?

If someone is eager for acclaim, recognition, or a sense of accomplishment, those things need to be acknowledged. But not necessarily acted on. But maybe, sometimes. However, in the world of Zen, we’d have to say they should not be acted on. Dogen and other ancestors were vocal on this: name and gain do not belong in the realm of Zen. Nor in fact does accomplishment. The Way is intrinsically accomplished, Dogen said. Therefore, what kind of accomplishment are we hoping for? Daitsu Chisho was the “non-attained Buddha” – a buddha for us all, showing the great way of non-attainment.

Instead, this is a way of surrender. Repeatedly. We forget our self, as Dogen said, we drop our self, again and again. We are all in training.


Message from Henry taken from our January 12, 2016 Newsletter

Image: Water Lily, by McLac2000,  CC0 Public Domain, from

footer support banner image

Support Mountain Cloud

You can show your gratitude for Mountain Cloud events, retreats, podcasts and other teachings by making a one-time gift, or by becoming a supporting member.

Donate to Mountain Cloud Become a Member