In Buddhism, hell or suffering is subtly defined as life lived outside the experience of this moment, where one is easily governed by the rushing nature of the small mind.
You aren’t sent to this hell by a patronizing, morally dignified figure. You suffer or put yourself in hell on your own: You judge yourself and the world around you, and so it is your life, your mind, your experience, and thus your choice to be where you are—to be stuck in judgment and reaction or… just to be here, free. If hell could be viewed as the unexamined mind, and more specifically, the demons lurking below the streaming thoughts, then let us descend into the places we might not wish to visit. The process or journey isn’t like Dante’s Inferno. There are no linear explanations, set layers, or encounters with internal guides, just a trail and an unknowable, wild landscape to begin to rediscover.
The inner regions of the mind are not governed by reason or logic. You can only pretend not to notice its total presence. In this inexplicably mysterious place lies a multi-dimensional wilderness full of life and death, vines, demons, decay, Siberian tigers, and flowering cherry blossom trees. It functions best when one applies balance and clear vision. When internal troubles are neglected, like a wildfire, the neglected begins to consume. And in its consumption of your life and your attention, it becomes who you are.
No matter the fortress, rules, or territory that come with facing a demon, sitting and watching quenches the thirst of all boundaries and leads to an opening for a true meeting. The demon is you and you are the demon. This is the practice of oneness.
I often smile at the thought of not doing the dirty work—what the texture of my life would feel like without going into the vastness of my mind to be with what needs to be examined. I might appear successful, happy, totally fine on the surface, but on an internal level, the one that really defines the vital pulse of my connection to life and the world around me, there would be so many deadening walls keeping me from experiencing what is here. And I think it is important to note that this learning to be is the great gift of doing such work.
I am under the impression that human beings are extremely intelligent animals capable of doing many things: loving, committing violence, appreciating, living, dying, drinking, working, writing poetry, making mistakes, and laughing. All of these various possibilities contribute to the oneness that binds humanity to the common experience of living a life grounded into the unknown wilderness-like nature of the world and the inner regions. Doing the dirty work in this life doesn’t mean that you are special or suddenly not an organic creature anymore. You are just using the gift of the complexity of the mind to tap into depth—the kind that opens the doors to balance. It is through the simple experience and relishing of life through the medium of our incredibly complex minds that freedom is found.
When I look at our culture, or more accurately, the collective consciousness of our culture I am dismayed by the lack of attention the inner regions receive. If our inner regions represent the underbelly of an iceberg—the vast majority of the entire entity—it might behoove us to begin looking underneath—within. So much depends falsely on surface-level achievements, titles, and appearances that at some point I think it is important not to fall for the dream our modern culture lures us into. When you sit with your own mind, gaze at the billions of galaxies, or contemplate the vastness of geological time, the dream becomes more apparent. I also believe that if happiness is a goal for someone, it might not be outside of the experience of what is here. The things we buy into—our culture, the rampant movements of our small mind, and the desire to seek without instead of within—may be the very barriers between genuine happiness and where we are now.
Don Dianda is the author of “See for your Self: Zen Mindfulness for the Next Generation.” Through meditation, daily mindfulness practice, and individual koan work, Dianda seeks to shed light on the inherently deep connection one can have with the experience of this life as well as the world one moves through. Stepping into the now and recognizing the movements within the mind is where the path begins…To get updates on Don’s writing go to RedwoodZen.blogspot.com.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard
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