Posted On 19 Oct 2009
Are you curious about your own unhappiness? Do you wonder about it? Why are you so discontent?
How discontent are you? How unhappy are you? How deep do your discontentment and unhappiness go?
You have surely heard the saying that “beauty is only skin deep.” My thesis in this post is that “discontentment and unhappiness are only mind deep.” In other words, they are only as deep as your mind.
Insofar as you identify yourself with your mind, that can be very deep! In fact, it be overwhelming. It can lead to suicide.
When you do seem overwhelmed by discontentment or unhappiness, try to remember that they are only mind deep. Discontentment and unhappiness come from the mind or consciousness.
Though I don’t know Sanskrit, I’ve read that the word that denotes consciousness is “vijnana,” which means “to divide, to cut.” The function of the mind is to divide or cut. The function of the mind is to be like a knife: whenever it is functioning, it is cutting.
Another way to say this is to say that the work of the mind is the work of conceptualizing. A concept is a principle of separation (cutting, dividing, classifying, categorizing, sorting, discriminating). The mind cannot work without noticing differences, and it cannot notice differences without comparing. All comparisons require multiplicity. Unity kills comparison.
Of particular importance is the fact that all evaluation comes from the mind. It is the mind that likes or dislikes, loves or hates; it is the mind that sorts into good or bad.
Therefore, the mind cannot grasp the whole. Unity is beyond conceptualization. Why is this important?
There is at least this difference between eating a peach and thinking about eating a peach: only the former will nourish you.
It’s a bit like that with our lives. There is a difference between, say, your life and your thinking about your life. There is a difference between what you are and what you think you are. Living is direct and thinking about living is indirect. As in the peach case, sometimes that difference is important.
Your life just is what it is. There is nothing wrong with it. You are alright. Your life is just–thus!
However, your mind cannot understand that. Of course you think you are unhappy! Of course you think you are discontent! Remember: like a knife, the work of your mind is to cut. Cutting can be important work, too. However, since your mind cannot cut the wholeness of your life as it is lived (but only as it is thought about), it cannot grasp it at all. Your thoughts are infinitely divisible, but your life is an indivisible whole.
Your mind cannot grasp the wholeness of your life. It is stuck always cutting it up into pieces. So, it creates a difficulty where there is no difficulty.
To the extent to which you believe your mind, you actually become unhappy and discontent. As soon as you begin believing your mind (and you have been doing that for as long as you can remember!), you become confused and distracted by ceaseless and often gratuitous evaluations and other separations. Your unhappiness feeds on itself; when you focus on it, your discontent increases. You fall prey to this or that delusive quest. You make yourself a victim of the someday syndrome, incessantly looking for something to come along and cure your unhappiness and discontent. If you keep incessantly looking without, you will die unhappy and discontent.
The good news is that there is a way out: stop identifying with your mind. The more you let go of the judgment that you are your mind, the more your unhappiness and discontent will diminish. If you let go completely, they will vanish completely.
This explains why there is nothing to gain from, say, zazen meditation. It is pointless activity. It is useless activity.
Why do it? To diminish delusion. The great Japanese Zen master Dogen recommends that we learn “the backward step,” which is just letting go of the mind, stepping back from ceaseless engagement with conceptualizing. What would happen if you did?
It’s not as if you would gain anything; instead, your body and mind would drop away and your original self would be manifest. Since you already are your original self, obviously you would not have gained anything.
Instead, you will experience things as they are, in all their “suchness.” When you let go completely of all conceptual and linguistic entanglements, you will directly experience your life as it really is and not merely as you think it is. All products of the knife-like mind, such as unhappiness and discontent, will vanish. Wholeness will be restored in all its suchness.
Is it worth it? If you want permanently to lose your unhappiness and discontentment, yes.
What should you do to manifest suchness? Throw yourself wholeheartedly into zazen meditation.
That requires the confidence that you can do it and the faith that there is something useless is worth doing.
You have the ability to do it. The only issue is whether or not you will. I wish you well.