The soft mind of Zen is an intuitive mind, one open to ideas. A soft mind accepts and embraces; it doesn’t criticize or condemn.
A hard mind, on the other hand, bends everything to fit its own view of the world.
I’ve been both ways, but for the past few years I’ve worked on cultivating a softer mind, and I’ve learned a few things in the process.
It can be particularly hard to change our way of thinking but we can do it by making conscious choices, and sometimes it leads to greater happiness. I had a friend once with a hard mind. One time he told me, “Almost everything in my life tells me my way of thinking is wrong, but I’m not going to change it.”
Maybe he’s happy. Who am I to say? But the conversation stayed with me because it struck me as so strange. Does it bring happiness to be at odds with the world? It never has for me.
Recently, this change in thinking has included a new look at Buddhism. A few weeks ago I read a post on Notes from the Bluegrass, one of the blogs I follow, Ok, so I’m not just a Buddhist that really resonated with me. She wrote about her love of certain aspects of Buddhism, but how part of it, that she said could have been a matter of interpretation, “upsets my journey rather than assists it.”
My own journey has been changing lately too. I still have a strong sitting practice, but I’m less sure of Buddhism than before. I sometimes wonder if religion is just a place for hard minds to belong.
Originally, I was drawn to Buddhism, and particularly Zen, because of its acceptance and simplicity, and that hasn’t changed.
Meditation helps me stay more present. Through the years, it’s helped me observe better and react less with knee jerk reactions. Simplicity works for me. Plenty of Buddhist scholars expound eloquently on the meaning of dukka or the merits of Theravada versus Mahayana or is Vajrayana closer to the pure practice of Buddhism? That’s great, but it makes my head spin, and, honestly, I don’t care. Books are wonderful, and some of my best journeys have been through books. They’ve taught me much and I still read voraciously.
But for me, a spiritual practice is different. It’s personal, and it’s between me and whatever power is out there, God or Buddha nature. For some it’s prayer. Others find that connection through chanting. Meditation works for me.
I still love Zen and will continue to sit, but I’m not so comfortable identifying myself with a particular religion. I’ve listened to too many arguments, seen too much posturing. And religion seems to bring it out.
But I’m trying to keep my mind soft and open to even that.
The soft mind is really the stronger of the two because it accepts so much more easily, whereas the hard mind threatens to break when encountering ideas different from his or her own.
How do you nurture a soft mind?